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January 23, 2017

10 players to watch during the Senior Bowl week of practices: Defense edition

Eagles NFL

The Senior Bowl week of practices kick off on Tuesday, so today we'll take a look at some players the Eagles could be watching closely down in Mobile, Alabama. Earlier today we started with the offense. Now let's look at the defense. 

In case you don't notice, there are a lot of cornerbacks to watch.

Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU (5'11, 191)

At 5'11, White is not a tall corner, which is less of a concern under Jim Schwartz than it was under Chip Kelly and the gang. White is an athletic corner with very good change-of-direction skills who could be a good fit in the Eagles' defense.

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White also serves as LSU's primary punt returner who has taken a return to the house in each of the last three years. That skill should be attractive to a team that is probably going to lose Darren Sproles after the 2017 season. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah has White listed as the 19th best prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft:

White started all four years at cornerback for the Tigers. He has average size and bulk for the position. In my opinion, he is one of the most improved players in this draft class. He made big strides from 2015 to 2016. He is very physical in press coverage and he's shown the ability to match up with tight ends when necessary. He is a fluid athlete, but there are some concerns with his deep speed. In zone coverage, he is outstanding. He has a quick pedal with outstanding route recognition and anticipation. He arrives in time to make plays on the ball or deliver big hits. I love his aggressiveness. He does have a bad habit of getting a little handsy when the ball is in the air; that can be fixed. He is very aggressive and reliable in run support. Overall, White is trending in the right direction and his best football is ahead of him.
That sound like a guy Schwartz might like?

Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State (5'10, 190)

Kazee is a lesser known player on a very good San Diego State team who does a great job attacking the football in the air. Over the last two seasons, he had 15 interceptions. His career numbers:

Damontae Kazee Tackles (TFL)INT PBU FF 
2013 41 (3)
2014 58 (4)12 
2015 75 (5.5)
2016 46 (3) 
TOTAL 220 (15.5) 17 29 

But Kazee isn't just a ballhawk. He is also very physical in run support and could be a coveted slot corner.

Last offseason, the Eagles brought in Ron Brooks, a physical tackler at the slot corner spot who also contributes on special teams. Over the next two years, Brooks' cap numbers will be $2.1 million and $2.4 million. If Brooks cannot recover fully from a ruptured quadriceps tendon, the Eagles would save $1.6 million if they move on from him next offseason. Kazee could be a potential replacement for Brooks, especially if the Eagles plan to eventually move Jalen Mills to safety.

Corn Elder, CB, Miami (5'10, 175)

Like Kazee, despite his small size, Elder is a physical tackler who makes plays and contributes on special teams for the Hurricanes.

In 2016, Elder had 76 tackles (4.5 for loss), 3 sacks, 1 INT, and 12 pass breakups. In 2015, he had 41 tackles (4 for loss), 2 sacks, 2 INTs, and 11 pass breakups.

Also, his name is Corn, so if you were an unfortunate soul who bought a "Corn on the Kolb" foam hat back in the day and kept it for years, you can dust it off for Corn Elder.

Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado (5'11, 205)

Aaaaand, yet another small-ish corner who is a physical tackler who also contributes on special teams. Awuzie has an abnormal number of tackles from his corner spot over the last four seasons:

 Chidobe AwuzieTackles (TFL)Sacks FF INT 
 201353 (5) 
 201463 (2) 
 201585 (12) 
 201665 (6) 
 TOTAL268 (25) 

Most linebackers don't rack up 268 tackles over their college careers.

Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan (5'10, 176)

It's extremely difficult to get separation on Lewis, who is as sticky a cover corner as there is in college football. In 2015, Lewis had a ridiculous 20 pass breakups. In 2016, despite opposing quarterbacks largely avoiding him, Lewis had 11 pass breakups.

Lewis is small, at 5'10, 186, and therefore he's likely to be drafted later than he should, but he is a great football player who could be a steal for someone. He would constitute excellent value in the second round in a draft loaded with excellent cornerback prospects.

There are eight wide receivers listed at 6’2 or taller who are competing at the Senior Bowl. They’ll give talent evaluators a good look at how Lewis can handle bigger receivers.

Desmond King, CB, Iowa (5'10, 203)

King has outstanding ball skills and instincts, as he racked up 13 pass breakups and tied for second in the NCAA with 8 INTs in 2015. In 2016, with teams staying away from him, he had three picks and 7 pass breakups. 

King has excellent versatility, as he looks comfortable playing both on the outside and in the slot, and contributes as Iowa's primary kick and punt returner. There are some who also believe King could be a safety at the next level.

Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee (5'11, 185)

Sutton is a highly athletic corner who missed half of his senior season with a broken ankle. He was a four-year starter at Tennessee.

As a freshman in 2013, he had seven pass breakups, followed by 13 as a sophomore. As a junior in 2015, Sutton's numbers dropped off because opposing offenses stopped throwing at him, but he still ended up with six pass breakups and a pick, while being charged with just two TDs allowed on the season.

Sutton doubles as an outstanding punt returner, leading the NCAA with a whopping 18.7 yards per punt return on 25 attempts in 2015, including two scores. Sutton fits a need both at corner as well as at punt returner, where again, the Eagles will eventually have to replace Sproles.

Dawaune Smoot, DE, Illinois (6'3, 255)

Smoot is a less heralded player in this year's draft class because his team stunk, but he is an explosive, penetrating defensive end whose skill set would fit in well in Schwartz's defense.

Smoot's numbers in 2016 weren't eye-popping. He has 56 tackles (15 for loss), 5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. A season ago, he had 40 tackles (15 for loss), 8 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. Schwartz likes defensive linemen who can consistently find their way into opposing backfield and make tackles for loss, putting the offense far behind the sticks. Because Illinois was often getting blown out, Smoot didn't get as many opportunities to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback, but he has the ability to do it.

Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State (6'4, 250)

Willis is the only player on this list that we did not profile during the season in our "Grocery Shopping" series, but he is definitely a player to watch down in Mobile.

Over the last two seasons, Willis has 21 sacks, 32.5 tackles for loss, and 7 forced fumbles. Is that good?

Keionta Davis, DE, Chattanooga (6'3, 270)

Davis is a bulkier DE who may interest the Eagles as a rotational defensive end. Prior to the 2016 season,'s Lance Zierlein named Davis among 10 college football edge rushers who were "generating interest from NFL scouts and/or are expected to post big seasons for their teams." Here's what Zierlein had to say at the time:

Don't look now, but FCS schools are cranking out NFL draft picks. Davis figures to be yet another after the 2016 season concludes. Turn on the tape and you'll see the first-team All-SoCon defensive end giving Florida State's heralded tackle, Roderick Johnson, all he could handle with powerful inside charges and trips around the edge as a rusher in a November game last year. Davis plays with solid strength at the point of attack and a hunger that drives him through the whistle. He might not be a high-end athlete by NFL standards, but he's a productive, driven player.

In 2015, Davis had 13.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. In 2016, his production dipped a bit, but was still good, when he had 10.5 sacks. At the Senior Bowl, Davis will have the chance to impress against better competition.

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