clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Senior Bowl preview: Defensive linemen to watch for the Falcons

We kick off our Senior Bowl preview series with a look at arguably the most important position group for the Falcons: the defensive line. An absolutely stacked EDGE group headlines this year’s class.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 05 Notre Dame at Florida State Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s officially Draft Season here at The Falcoholic, with the Atlanta Falcons locked into the 8th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Based on the results of the NFL’s divisional round of the playoffs, we also know that the Falcons will have the 58th pick as a result of the Julio Jones trade with the Titans. That gives the team three top-60 picks—and there’s the potential to add more with a few other player trades, if Atlanta is interested in making additional moves.

The next event on the offseason calendar is the Reese’s Senior Bowl—a showcase of the top draft-eligible seniors (or players who graduated early) that takes place in Mobile right around the first week of February. To get everyone ready for the week to come, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Falcons and the league at large.

DL | LB | DB | WR | RB & TE | OL | QB

As you might expect, we’ll kick things off with arguably the most important position group for Atlanta: the defensive line.

EDGE

The strongest position group in the entire 2022 NFL Draft might be EDGE, where The Draft Network has a whopping 16 prospects in the top 100. That group is represented extremely well at this year’s Senior Bowl, where half of those 16 will be competing in front of the scouting community. With Atlanta’s desperate need for multiple edge rushers, this is the group I’ll be watching most closely in Mobile. Here are some of the biggest names to watch.

Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State

Looking for an explosive speed rusher? Arnold Ebiketie is one of the best in this class. Comfortable rushing standing up and with his hand in the dirt, Ebiketie is a fiery competitor with a strong 6’4, 250 frame. After transferring from Temple to Penn State, Ebiketie responded to the jump in competition by having his best season ever. I like Ebiketie as a Day 2 target for Atlanta. Right now he’s projected to go in the late 2nd-early 3rd round, but a strong Senior Bowl could push him up the board.

Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina

Enagbare is a versatile, 6’4, 265 edge rusher who can play in both a 3-4 or 4-3, though he is most comfortable rushing from a stand-up position. While there are no glaring issues with Enagbare’s game, he does lack the ceiling of the top prospects. He’s above-average or better in most areas and has room to grow, but I think he’ll be best served as a complementary piece across from a true EDGE1. This is the type of player who has a long, productive NFL career but might not ever make a Pro Bowl. Still, Enagbare offers a valuable skillset and could likely be had in the late 2nd-early 3rd in this stacked edge class.

Logan Hall, Houston

Houston defensive lineman Logan Hall is a big-bodied, versatile prospect with experience playing all over the defensive line. At his listed height/weight of 6’6, 275, Hall spent the majority of his breakout 2021 campaign playing 3T, where he dominated the vast majority of interior offensive linemen he faced. Originally a rotational 5T edge rusher to start the season, Houston carved out a multiple role for Hall as the year went on and he rewarded them with standout production. I’m interested to see where Hall plays at the Senior Bowl and how he performs. He’ll likely need a versatile inside/outside role to have the most success in the NFL.

Jermaine Johnson, Florida State

Johnson played all over the defensive line for FSU and looked comfortable rushing from both 2 and 3-point stances. He’s also a very smart player and a quick processor who is seldom out of position. As both a run defender and pass rusher, Johnson has the look of an early starter who still has room to grow in terms of hand technique and pass rushing moves. I like Johnson as a back-half of the first round edge rusher who has a high ceiling and provides immediate starting ability.

Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati

Myjai Sanders is a long and lean edge rusher from Cincinnati. His top traits are his burst off the snap and his outstanding length–he’s got the frame to play in the NFL. However, there are concerns about his weight, as he’s listed in the 250s but looked more like 235 late in the season. That also impacted his ability to defend the run, which was mediocre at best. It’s tough to justify a Day 2 pick on Sanders right now due to his limitations. His athletic testing and weigh-in could make a big difference in his overall grade, and a strong week at the Senior Bowl could alleviate many of my concerns.

Other players to watch:

Cameron Thomas, San Diego State
Josh Paschal, Kentucky
Tyreke Smith, Ohio State
Amare Barno, Virginia Tech
Boye Mafe, Minnesota
Deangelo Malone, Western Kentucky

DT

In comparison to the EDGE class, this year’s defensive tackle group is considerably weaker overall. TDN has just six DTs in their top 100, and only twelve total in the top 200. That’s not to say there isn’t talent to be had here, but there isn’t much depth. The Senior Bowl will have four of the top six prospects, however, so there’s plenty to look forward to in Mobile. Here are some of the players I’ll be monitoring.

Travis Jones, UConn

If the Falcons pass on Jordan Davis at the top of the draft, there’s another high-end nose tackle prospect who could be had on Day 2: UConn’s Travis Jones. At 6’4, 330, Jones is a massive space-eater in the middle who pairs his incredible strength with surprisingly good burst and lateral mobility for a player of his size. He’s not an impact player as a pass rusher, but he’s a good pocket-pusher and an absolute stone wall against the run.

Phidarian Mathis, Alabama

One of the top defensive tackles in the class, Alabama’s Phidarian Mathis had a breakout senior season in 2021 with 10.5 TFL and 9.0 sacks. At 6’4, 317, Mathis is exceptionally long for the position and pairs that length with explosiveness and power. Mathis is technically advanced, uses his hands well, and offers a lot of versatility: he spent a lot of time at 3T DT and as a 5T 3-4 DE. That flexibility could give him significant appeal to NFL teams—particularly the Falcons. I’m excited to see how and where Mathis is deployed at the Senior Bowl.

Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma

Another versatile defensive tackle who wins with quickness and length, Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey actually reminds me quite a bit of Phidarian Mathis. Winfrey is the more athletic of the two, with a more explosive first step and better lateral mobility. However, he’s closer to 300 and is more raw in his technique and hand usage. Like Mathis, Winfrey played all over the defensive line and is capable of lining up at both 3T and 5T. Winfrey has a higher athletic ceiling, but will likely have a slower start to his career. How these two compare at the Senior Bowl will be one of the storylines to monitor in Mobile.

Devonte Wyatt, Georgia

I’m sure UGA fans don’t need me to tell them to pay attention to Devonte Wyatt, but I’ll remind folks anyway. On an absolutely stacked defense, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle, but Wyatt was one of the best players on the team in 2021. At 6’3, 315, Wyatt has ideal size and length for the position and he pairs it with outstanding burst, exceptional hand usage, and very good lateral mobility. Like Mathis and Winfrey, Wyatt also played all across the defensive line. Between these three prospects, I’d expect there to be a lot of havoc in the middle of the defense.

Other players to watch:

Zachary Carter, Florida
John Ridgeway III, Arkansas
Haskell Garrett, Ohio State

I hope you enjoyed the first of our Senior Bowl preview series. I’ll be in Mobile to cover the Senior Bowl for The Falcoholic from Tuesday, February 4 through Thursday, February 6. Stay tuned tomorrow for our next position preview: linebacker.