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Scouting the Senior Bowl: North Team Defense

A strong defensive 2017 NFL Draft class means talent will be plentiful on the Reese’s Senior Bowl North Team.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Florida vs Iowa
Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Desmond King (14) reacts against the Florida Gators during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Credit: Kim Klement
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 Reese’s Senior Bowl North Team will be coached by Chicago Bears head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, a widely-respected assistant. The one-time New Orleans Saints coach worked with the legendary Dome Patrol, putting all-time greats Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Johnson, Pat Swilling, and Sam Mills in position to do what they did best. The NFL Draft prospects on the North Team defense will enjoy the same opportunity.

NCAA Football: Southern California at UCLA
UCLA Bruins quarterback Mike Fafaul (12) is pressured by USC Trojans defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu (96) in the second quarter of the game at the Rose Bowl. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line

  • DE Chris Wormley, Michigan
  • DE Dawuane Smoot, Illinois
  • DE Isaac Rochell, Notre Dame
  • DE Tarell Baasham, Ohio
  • DT Jaleel Johnson, Iowa
  • DT Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte
  • DT Ryan Glasgow, Michigan
  • DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, USC

The North Team defensive line is a stacked group featuring multiple future NFL starters. Each of the defensive tackles should be drafted and see playing time in 2017.

The best of the group is Iowa Hawkeyes lineman Jaleel Johnson, a great athlete who echoes the success Sheldon Rankins enjoyed last year. Johnson’s process is different than Rankins, winning with his first step and strength rather than second step and hand placement, but the result is often the same: giving hell to their opponents.

Stevie Tu’ikolovatu is a true nose guard who anchors against the run better than most. The Saints scouting staff attended three USC Trojans games this year which is a testament to the talent that team put out, including Tu’ikolovatu. He will be a 26-year-old rookie after spending two years completing a Mormon mission, which will probably cause Tu’ikolovatu to slide in the draft.

NCAA Football: Military Bowl-Temple vs Wake Forest
Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback John Wolford (10) throws as Temple Owls defensive lineman Haason Reddick (7) applies pressure during the second quarter at Navy-Marine Corps. Stadium. Credit: Tommy Gilligan
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers

  • ILB Ben Gedeon, Michigan
  • ILB Connor Harris, Lindenwood-Missouri
  • ILB Haason Reddick, Temple
  • ILB Jordan Herdman, Simon Fraser-British Columbia, Canada
  • OLB Carroll Phillips, Illinois
  • OLB Derek Rivers, Youngstown State
  • OLB Vince Biegel, Wisconsin

Players to watch on the North Team linebacker corps are Carroll Phillips, Derek Rivers, and Vince Biegel. They each spent a lot of time rushing the passer and could be fits at defensive end in the NFL, which will draw the Saints’ attention. For what it’s worth, the three combined for 63 career sacks in college - though Rivers bagged 36 of those on his own against a lower level of competition.

Haason Reddick is the most-intriguing inside linebacker. Reddick started his career at safety, but has been shifted to both linebacker and defensive end. He really excelled the last two years as the backside pass rusher, creating 25.5 tackles for loss, collecting 14.5 sacks, and forcing four fumbles. Reddick’s smaller stature (listed at 6-foot-1, 230-pounds) means he probably plays more off-ball linebacker in the NFL.

NCAA Football: Kansas at West Virginia
West Virginia Mountaineers cornerback Rasul Douglas (13) celebrates with safety Kyzir White (8) after intercepting a pass during the fourth quarter against the Kansas Jayhawks at Milan Puskar Stadium. Credit: Ben Queen
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Backs

  • CB Brendan Langley, Lamar
  • CB Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado
  • CB Desmond King, Iowa
  • CB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan
  • CB Rasul Douglas, West Virginia
  • S John Johnson, Boston College
  • S Lorenzo Jerome, St. Francis-Pennsylvania
  • S Nate Garry, Nebraska
  • S Obi Melifonwu, UConn

I don’t think it’s a secret by now that Chidobe Awuzie and Desmond King are my favorite cornerbacks in this draft class. I’ve got an appreciation for highly-physical, feisty defensive backs who find ways to compete for the football. Between their two careers is a monstrous stat line of seven forced fumbles, nine sacks, 34.5 tackles for loss, 17 interceptions, and an obscene 58 pass breakups. These are two good football players who I think Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will love as fits for his zone coverage-heavy defense.

However, West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas may be the biggest rising star at the position. Douglas was a JUCO transfer from Nassau Community College in New York, where he collected five interceptions and 18 pass breakups. Douglas mostly played special teams in his first year at West Virginia before starting his senior year, but finished his Mountaineers career with nine picks plus nine deflections. His ball skills are obvious and combined with rare size for the position - Douglas is listed at 6-foot-2, 203-pounds - he’ll be sure to turn heads at Mobile.