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10 Senior Bowl players to watch on Defense next week for the Colts

Which defenders should the Colts be watching at the Senior Bowl?

Austin Peay v Pittsburgh Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The best time of the football year is right around the corner as the Reese’s Senior Bowl practices start next week. The Senior Bowl is one of the top events of the draft season and features many of the best prospects in the upcoming draft. Unfortunately, I won’t be there live for the first time in the last four years due to Covid restrictions but there is still a lot to look forward to with this game.

Our next piece in this mini series will look at the defensive players that Colts fans should keep an eye on in Mobile. It may not be an elite class of defenders this year but there is some talent in the middle rounds where the Colts need some more depth to their defense.

10.) JaCoby Stevens, SAF/LB, LSU

Starting this article off is a personal draft crush of mine. While the need at safety may not be a major one for the Colts, they could certainly use some depth at the spot. Luckily a player like JaCoby Stevens is so much more than just a safety.

He possesses excellent size at 6’2” 230 pounds and has the athleticism to fill in at a two safety role. However the appeal with him is his versatility as he lined up at edge, linebacker, nickel corner, and even over the A gap in some situations for LSU. A do it all defender who flies downhill, plays fast, and is surprisingly solid in coverage. One of my favorite players in this class that I almost need to end up in Indy.

9.) Daelin Hayes, DE, Notre Dame

One of the more surprising players I watched on tape in preparation for this event is Notre Dame defensive end Daelin Hayes. With Indy’s major need at edge rusher in this draft, he could be a perfect fit in the their 4-3 defense. The senior defensive end finished with 9 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss in his college career.

Hayes had much more juice and explosion than I expected when watching his film. He has the power and that is what I knew going in but the explosiveness and strong hands are what really stood out. He’s likely sitting at a day three pick right now but with a strong showing in Mobile, he could jump his way up to round 2 or 3 status.

8.) Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State

Staying with another one of my favorite players in this class, Baron Browning may be one of the more underrated players in Mobile. Hidden in a bit of a timeshare at linebacker at Ohio State, he showed the most potential and promise on a defense loaded with NFL talent.

Standing at 6’3” 240 pounds, Browning has the size and speed to be a difference maker at the next level. While the Colts may not truly need a linebacker in this class, it wouldn’t hurt to add another really good player to this group. There is no telling how high he could end up going in this draft but for my money, Browning is a first round caliber player who may be there on day two.

7.) Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse

The first “who?” player on this list comes in the form of cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu. The Colts love their big and physical cornerbacks and he fits the bill. At 6’3” 213 pounds, he has the size and fluidity to be a real gem in this draft class.

He isn’t a perfect prospect by any means by Melifonwu is the type of corner that Chris Ballard likes to take a shot on. Big and physical player who excels around the line of scrimmage and is an underrated athlete. Mobile will be a huge test to see if he can run in space with these talented receiver but I think he will put on a show in front of the scouting community.

6.) Rashad Weaver, DE, Pittsburgh

Jumping back to defensive end, which is arguably the Colts’ biggest need in this class, and we look at Pittsburgh’s Rashad Weaver. He is a built 6’5” 270 pound defensive end who had a really impressive college career, totaling 17.5 sacks in three seasons.

Others in the draft community are likely higher on Weaver than I am but I do think he can be a solid NFL player. Great size and strength and he is one of the more polished pass rushers in the entire class. He has a wide array of moves that help him win on the outside, from a killer bull rush to a nasty long arm. My biggest concern is his overall athleticism but Mobile will be a big test to see if he can win against NFL caliber players without that major trait.

5.) Monty Rice, LB, Georgia

Speaking of draft crushes, I need to tell you all about linebacker Monty Rice. He may not be as lengthy but I get serious Darius Leonard vibes from watching his film. He honestly might be my favorite overall player in this class (outside of JaCoby Stevens who I mentioned earlier).

A bit of a smaller linebacker (6’1” 230 pounds) but Rice makes up for it with his style of play. Explosive downhill run defender who excels in zone drops and coverage as well. He also has that Maniac trait we all love where he flips that switch come game time and can’t stop getting in opponents’ faces. If the Colts want to replace Anthony Walker Jr with a mean, explosive linebacker then Rice is the one to target.

4.) Keith Taylor, CB, Washington

Another underrated cornerback prospect to watch for the Colts in Mobile is Washington CB Keith Taylor. Overshadowed by his teammate Elijah Molden, Taylor put up a fairly solid career in college. The most intriguing aspect about him though is that he is a former receiver who stands at 6’3”.

Taylor is a lengthy corner who does have some work to do in coverage but is silky smooth with a desire to fly up and hit someone. His footwork in press is a bit poor but he was able to make up for that with great recognition and closing speed. If he can land in Indy and work more on his overall technique then I think he can be a really solid cornerback in the NFL.

3.) Payton Turner, DE, Houston

Another player flying way too far under the radar in this draft class is Houston DE Payton Turner. He is a massive 6’6” 270 pound edge player who can shift back and forth from defensive end to three tech defensive tackle (much like how the Colts use Denico Autry and Tyquan Lewis).

For a bigger player, Turner has excellent ankle flexation on the outside. He may not be bendy in any way but he turns the corner better than most at his size. What would really intrigue the Colts though is his versatility, explosiveness, and motor that always run red hot. He fits almost everything the Colts look for in their defensive ends.

2.) Patrick Jones II, DE, Pittsburgh

Arguably the top rated pass rusher in Mobile this year is the other Pittsburgh rusher in Patrick Jones II. He is a twitched up yet powerful player who can win in multiple ways on the outside. He totaled 21.5 sacks and 32 tackles for a loss in his college career.

Jones II is a bit of an enigma for me personally. He has every single trait you would want in a pass rusher from strength, hand usage, and explosiveness. He also flashes some very developed and nuanced rushes like you will see in the clip below. The biggest issue in his game though is consistency as he disappears for stretches of every game I’ve seen. Still, the traits are there and he is a super intriguing option for the Colts.

1.) Jordan Smith, DE, UAB

Last but certainly not least is the behemoth that is Jordan Smith. An underrated player in this class, he had a fairly dominant two year run at UAB as he won with some insane power. The 6’7” 250 pound pass rusher looks to bring that ability on the big stage next week.

There aren’t many things to dislike in Smith’s game. He’s explosive and strong at the point of attack. He is superb against both the run and the pass. He wins with power but also has a great get off and is fairly twitchy for a player his size. He may not be a round one player at the moment but I could definitely see a Marcus Davenport type rise for him with a good Senior Bowl. He’s definitely a player who the Colts could target to improve their pass rush.