What We Learned From the Senior Bowl: Four Defenders on the Rise
By Patrik Nohe
The Senior Bowl came and went on Saturday, but in the midst of the Buccaneers hiring their coach and finally ending their three and a half week search, I’m sure more than a few Bucs fans missed it.
Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. The Senior Bowl is not an especially exciting event and the usefulness of the game itself is overshadowed by the week of practice that precedes it. Players rise and fall based on their work ethic, practice habits and the things teams can gleen from watching things unfold in the week leading up to the game.
Let’s start by taking a look at four defensive players that the Buccaneers may be interested in come draft time that raised their stock at the Senior Bowl.
Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, 6’2, 273, Alabama
Upshaw spent part of the week at defensive end where he showed a number of teams he has the tools to make the transition at the NFL level. Upshaw’s versatility will present teams with a number of options, lets him play in a number of schemes and in a league where the hybrid defense is becoming the norm, allows him to stay on the field for more downs.
Part of Upshaw’s problem coming into Senior Bowl week was that he was a player who had been used primarily as an edge rusher at Alabama. He was asked to pin his ears back and attack more so than to read and react so questions about his football IQ needed to be answered. What coaches and scouts got to see was an intelligent, instinctual linebacker who has the versatility to play down on the line if need be. He lacks the football IQ of Luke Kuechly and as such will require more coaching but his athleticism is better. He probably made his way up into the top half of the first round last week.
Quinton Coples, DE, 6’6, 286, North Carolina
I’ve already written a full profile of Coples but he really made himself some money last week in Mobile. Questions about Coples’ senior season at UNC and his motivation were an issue headed into the week but he told scouts to watch him and proceeded to have one of the best weeks of any player in attendance.
Coples can be as good as he wants to be and if the right coaches can get him and motivate him he can likely be All-Pro, the questions with him are no longer related to athleticism as he absolutely dominated the guys trying to block him all week. His performance likely put him up into the top ten of the draft and with good workouts during the Combine and his pro day, he could be top five.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, 5’10, 191, North Alabama (by way of UF)
I don’t know why people were so shocked when Jenkins was one of the best corners at the Senior Bowl. His body of work at Florida was more than impressive, the only issues I saw with him heading into the draft were upstairs. Jenkins had a history of off-the-field issues before he finally ran afoul of Will Muschamp and got booted out of UF for good.
He went to North Alabama, which seems to reap the benefits of misbehavior at most Florida colleges because a number of former Seminoles wind up there as well (Preston Parker, for instance). He didn’t get worse as a player though, quite the opposite. He used the year to develop his skills and showed that to everyone last week. I think Jenkins goes first round, he’s got the ability and in a league increasingly dominated by the pass, corners are a hot commodity. With Alfonzo Dennard slipping a little bit, Jenkins is poised to move up draft boards around the league.
Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, 6’2, 276, South Carolina
Ingram and Upshaw have a lot in common in terms of skill-sets and versatility, but unlike Upshaw who played linebacker in college and is looking at playing some defensive end in the pros, Ingram was recruited as a linebacker, played end in college and now he’s making the switch back the other way. Headed into the Senior Bowl teams wanted to see how the Gamecock defensive end could make the transition and were pleasantly surprised.
Ingram would have work to do in order to make it happen correctly, he’d have to work on changing his body type a little and he needs to work on technique quite a bit, but you can’t teach athleticism. That’s what coaches and scouts saw in Mobile, he has the tools, he just needs the coaching. He also brings the versatility to be able to play a few different positions in a number of different schemes. That versatility, like with Upshaw, should help raise his stock on its own, but coupled with the week Ingram had in Mobile, he’s really helped himself.