Top defensive linemen at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl

    The Senior Bowl defensive linemen are a talented group of prospects. The DL cohort consists of athletic specimens that can play multiple roles, and it will be interesting to see how these players compare next to one another. The 2021 defensive line class isn’t viewed as highly as other positions, so a strong week from a few prospects could lead to dramatic rises up draft boards. Which players will emerge as the best from this group, and how high can they get selected in the NFL Draft?

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    Ranking the top defensive linemen at the Senior Bowl — National Team

    Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington

    Levi Onwuzurike is a marvelous athlete from Washington. He’s already an elite run defender thanks to functional play strength and excellent leveraging. He was perfect for the Huskies’ defense, making plays in the backfield and wrecking the game plan as both a run defender and pass rusher. Some think Onwuzurike has a chance to hear his name called in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft and be the first of the Senior Bowl defensive linemen drafted. 

    If there’s anything specific teams will look for at the Senior Bowl, it will be how Onwuzurike does in the 1-on-1 pass rush drills. Despite being a high-level athlete, he only managed 7 sacks in 34 career games. The potential to be an impact rusher is there, but will he ever reach it is the question.

    Going against the top seniors in the country will help answer those questions. Expect the explosion to pop, and keep an eye on his hand usage to see if he’s developed into a more technical pass rusher.

    Osa Odighizuwa, DL, UCLA

    One of the most underrated interior linemen in the 2021 NFL Draft class, Osa Odighizuwa has improved in each of his four seasons at UCLA. Similar to Onwuzurike, Odighizuwa is a strong athlete with dominant play strength. When his leverage is good, he’s nearly immovable despite only being listed at about 280 pounds. His functional athleticism and play strength combined with his natural length will have teams’ interest piqued in Mobile.

    Despite improving every year as a pass rusher, Odighizuwa still isn’t a refined interior disruptor. A majority of his pressures come off of his ability to dominate the opposition physically. His hand/body usage has gotten better throughout the years, but he’s still far from an easy projection. Can he show enough at the Senior Bowl to convince a team to bet on his upside on Day 2?

    Rashad Weaver, EDGE, Pittsburgh

    Rashad Weaver has quietly amassed a strong fan base among scouts. Coming into the season, the talk was all about teammate Patrick Jones II. Weaver took it on the chin and elevated his game to another level. He and Jones were the top edge-rushing duo in the nation. Both will be participating in the Senior Bowl and should dominate the week. 

    Weaver is likely viewed as a Day 2 pick, and he should cement that status in Mobile. He’s one of the most well-developed pass rushers on either roster, and that skill set will easily translate to the 1-on-1 pass-rushing drills. Expect him to use a variety of moves that he has tucked away in his toolbox. How teams view his athletic ability will determine how high he gets drafted in April.

    Patrick Jones II, EDGE, Pittsburgh

    One of the country’s most productive pass rushers over the last two seasons, Jones amassed 17.5 sacks his last two years in Pittsburgh. His explosion and initial burst are at the top of the 2021 class, and he pairs it with an elite 6’5″ 260-pound frame. Jones’ physical tools alone will get him drafted in the top 100. However, his experience, production, and savvy should get him selected in the top 50. 

    Jones should dominate the Senior Bowl in all facets. He’s arguably the top player among the Senior Bowl defensive linemen and should perform like it. His athletic ability and technique as a defensive end are among the best in the class, and I fear for the offensive tackles that draw his number in 1-on-1 situations. As both a run defender and pass rusher, Jones should stick out.

    Shaka Toney, EDGE, Penn State

    Toney possesses an elite tool in his ability to turn the corner. His bend is arguably the best in the 2021 NFL Draft class. He dominates tackles with his ability to get parallel to the ground and avoid contact. His initial burst is elite, and he can convert speed to power when need be. He’s a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker and should show off his tools during the week.

    Toney is likely viewed as a rotational pass rusher whose role is to come in on obvious passing downs and wreak havoc. However, if he can take on some of the top senior tackles and hold his own as a run defender, he may convince teams to view him as an every-down type of player. His frame is a cause for concern, so he’ll need a strong week of showcasing his run defending abilities if he wants to raise his stock.  

    Ranking the top defensive linemen at the Senior Bowl — American Team

    Marvin Wilson, DT, Florida State

    Marvin Wilson has had one of the rougher seasons in the 2021 NFL Draft class, as far as draft stock goes. Many viewed him as a lock to be the first interior defender selected and a first-round pick. Now, many question if he’s even a Day 2 pick, with some doubters even questioning if he’s draftable.

    In the past, Wilson has proven that he can be an impactful player on tape. Whether or not he can still create that impact is what teams will be searching for. Out of the Senior Bowl defensive linemen, Marvin Wilson might have the most polarization in the league. 

    If Wilson can come back and dominate the Senior Bowl, it would be a huge step for his stock overall. He’s shown the ability to be explosive and powerful at the line of scrimmage. Wilson is only one year removed from a season where he produced 8.5 tackles for loss on a horrendous Florida State team. Where is the 2018 and 2019 version of Marvin Wilson, and will he show up in Mobile?

    Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC

    A high floor/low ceiling type of player, Tuipulotu provides energy and toughness to the defensive interior. Tuipulotu plays with heavy hands and is an excellent run defender. He has the size and requisite athletic ability to be an every-down player for a quality defense. He lacks elite athletic ability, and that limits his pass-rushing upside. Yet, there’s no reason he can’t be a rock-solid starter in the NFL for a long time.

    In 30 career games at USC, Tuipulotu accumulated 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He also registered 104 total tackles as well as 3 pass deflections and 2 forced fumbles. Teams won’t view him in the light as some other, more physically gifted interior defenders, but in Mobile, he’ll display his technique, consistency, and play strength. Expect a quality week and career from Marlon Tuipulotu.

    Carlos Basham, EDGE, Wake Forest

    One of the strongest edge defenders in the class, Carlos Basham is a mammoth of an edge defender at 6’5″ and 285 pounds. He’s a tone-setting edge defender who brings experience and leadership to a defense. Over the past three seasons, he’s accumulated 19.5 sacks in just 31 games, while also registering 33.5 tackles for loss in that span. Long arms and a nose for the football also make him a threat to knock down a pass or knock loose a football on any given play.

    Teams will love interviewing Basham. He’s been highly regarded amongst his teammates, coaches, and opponents since stepping onto campus at Wake Forest. A team in need of a powerful, hand in the dirt, defensive end will think hard about him. Expect him to be selected somewhere on Day 2, and his performance at the Senior Bowl could decide just how high.

    Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston

    One of the hottest names among draft pundits right now, Houston’s Payton Turner was dominant in the five games he played this season. In just those games, he managed to tally 5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. He’s a bit of a tweener, but he’s strong and plays with a hot motor. Teams love guys who will compete on every play, and Turner does it at the highest level.

    Just how athletic he is will be questioned, and that could decide where he plays in the NFL. However, he’s shown a nice repertoire of pass rush moves in his career. That type of development usually leads to early success in the NFL. Expect the opposing offensive line to have trouble with Turner all week. As a result, his draft stock will skyrocket.

    Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami

    After becoming one of the most productive pass rushers in college football at Temple, Roche decided to transfer and take his talents to South Beach at the University of Miami. However, he didn’t find nearly the same level of sack production as he did at Temple this season.

    Nonetheless, he had a quality season posting 14.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Quincy Roche is small for the position, but his athletic ability and bend are similar to that of Shaka Toney. Both project as 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL.

    Can Roche display the requisite play strength and run defense for a team to bank on his pass-rushing upside? That will be what scouts look for at the Senior Bowl. They expect him to excel in the pass rush drills, but how he functions setting the edge and getting into the backfield on run downs is imperative. He could get drafted on Day 2 with a big week but could slide towards Day 3 if he struggles.

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