We are continuing our series looking forward to the 2021 NFL Draft by digging through the Senior Bowl top 250 list, now picking five defensive players we — and the Kansas City Chiefs — should be watching this season.
Robert Rochell | CB | Central Arkansas
The top of the list starts with an atypical FCS cornerback that has incredibly rare physical traits for a small-school prospect.
Robert Rochell is a small school CB out of Central Arkansas with big time potential on the Senior Bowl watch list.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 23, 2020
6'2" with LONG arms, Rochell isn't your typical "big CB". Hips are fluid and he's got long speed. The tools are there for a team willing to develop his technique. pic.twitter.com/eTRgKOUO1K
Where he wins: Robert Rochell comes in at 6 feet 1, 197 pounds with obvious length, but where he appears really impressive is when you look at his athletic profile. According to Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List, Rochell not only runs a sub-4.4 40-yard dash but has a 41-inch vertical jump and a 140-inch broad jump. The explosive traits are obvious the moment you flip on the film, but what’s really impressive is how fluid his hips are for a higher cut, lengthy cornerback. Add good ball production on top of that, and there is a fantastic foundation for an outside cornerback in the NFL.
Where he can improve in 2020: The burning question is how a guy with that athletic profile and obvious talent ends up at Central Arkansas? Coming out of high school, Rochell played more wide receiver than cornerback and was incredibly light. He has added some weight but could fill out his long frame even more, but the biggest thing missing in Rochell’s game is just more polish.
Big 2020 matchups: Despite all FCS conferences cancelling fall seasons, Central Arkansas has does everyone a big favor and set up a relatively full schedule. Rochell will be on the big screen in primetime on ESPN this Saturday evening against Austin Peay and has quality matchups with UAB and LA-Lafayette. The biggest matchup could be on October 3 against North Dakota State facing off against a potential top-10 pick, Trey Lance.
Patrick Jones II | DE | Pittsburgh
An edge rusher who was able to explode onto the scene in 2019 was Patrick Jones II, who almost doubled his production from the previous two seasons as a junior.
Patrick Jones II DE #91— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 25, 2020
++ Changing levels to drop/dip under OTs
+ Explosive 1st step
+ Length + Strength
++ Upper body control
+ Spacing up the arc
+ Active vs run
- Hand usage to keep chest clean
- Ankle flexibility
- Inconsistent utilizing power
Senior Bowl Top 250 pic.twitter.com/Nh1HrXyMox
Where he wins: Jones’ athleticism is near perfect for the position with high-level explosive ability, good strength and the ability to dip under blockers. Some of his highlight sacks are perfect ghost technique, pressuring the edge with speed and simply slipping underneath the punch of an offensive tackle. His frame and power that he can counter with are what really set him apart as a defensive end prospect for the NFL.
Where he can improve in 2020: Jones needs to be far more consistent with utilizing his length and power in 2020 if he wants to make the next jump. The explosion and hip bend are great starting points, but he has to showcase the ability to adapt to deeper sets from offensive tackles and use his natural power. On top of that, he has limited ankle bend, meaning he needs a softer corner to get to the quarterback. NFL players with limited ankle flexibility have to have a strong counter pass rush game or their careers won’t last long.
Big 2020 matchups: With the ACC planning on playing a full schedule, there is no shortage of games to catch Jones in action this season. The two biggest matchups come against Liam Eichenberg and Notre Dame and Jackson Carmen and Trevor Lawrence for the season finale against Clemson.
JaCoby Stevens | S | LSU
College football is starting to become full of these massive, athletic freaks playing safety despite being the size of linebackers and JaCoby Stevens is the next in line.
JaCoby Stevens S/LB #3— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 26, 2020
++ Thick, powerful lower body
+ Big hitter w/ sound tech
+ Ball tracking & high point skills
++ Downhill vision/angles
+ Box/slot/deep versatility
+ Block deconstruction
- Shorter strider
- Some reps look like a grind to turn an run
Senior Bowl Top 250 pic.twitter.com/ew7vazGAkQ
Where he wins: Stevens is listed at 6 feet 1, 230 pounds, and looking at his frame, that seems correct. To see a player of that body composition playing deep safety, overhand defender and in the slot is something to behold. Stevens is at his best coming downhill, using his explosiveness to make plays on the ball or blow up ball carriers. He showcases a high IQ when playing in deep coverage but he’s tailor-made to live in the box, dealing with tight ends and beating blockers on the second level.
Where he can improve in 2020: Given the body frame, Stevens is a bit of a short strider, which does limit top-end speed. He also doesn’t have the most fluid of hips and being put on an island in man coverage or single high won’t be the best use of his skill set. Stevens likely won’t test like an elite athlete, and without a huge 2020 season he may get lost with the “tweener” label.
Big 2020 matchups: The SEC has filled out a full fall schedule, which gives LSU plenty of opportunities to showcase its talent. Stevens’ biggest matchups are going to be a rematch with Kyle Pitts, a top tight end prospect out of Florida and just dealing with the Alabama offensive line and rushing attack.
Chazz Suratt | LB | North Carolina
Chazz Surratt — the ex-starting quarterback for North Carolina turned into a linebacker in 2019 — is looking to translate his athleticism into a good final season.
Very excited for the possibility of LB Chazz Surratt in Mobile next year.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 23, 2020
Played QB his first two years at UNC, converted to defense in 2019. Fluid hips, smart player, and has a great handle on route distributions. Athleticism and IQ to be an impact player at the next level. pic.twitter.com/FJGUicl9VI
Where he wins: Surratt has rare change-of-direction ability for a linebacker and pairs that with quality speed. He is always balanced and ready to close while he matches and mirrors receivers in coverage or running backs working through the line of scrimmage. The most impressive part of Surratt’s game is the understanding of offensive concepts he has from his experience at quarterback. There are times he gets a jump on a play well before most defensive players would even think about it based on his previous experience.
Where he can improve in 2020: Surratt has to improve his tackling technique and efficiency if he wants to move on to the next level. He won’t ever be a thumping linebacker, but he’s more than willing to take on blockers and bigger ball carriers. He’s just not always that effective in that role. Surratt also gets sucked in by his own experience at times and jumps too early on plays he expects to happen rather than reacting once the offense shows their full hand.
Big 2020 matchups: North Carolina’s biggest matchups in 2020 starts with Notre Dame and Miami because they provide the strongest passing attacks for the defense. Surratt has shown high levels of competence against the pass, and his biggest test could come against the rushing attack of Boston College.
Levi Onwuzurike | IDL | Washington
Levi Onwuzurike DT #94— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 27, 2020
++ Powerful lower body to anchor
+ Quick first lateral step
+ Flashes flexibility
++ Core strength to dispose of blockers
+ Length, good control at extension
+ Shrinks pocket w/rush
- Hand technique
- Body control
- Open chest often
Senior Bowl Top 250 pic.twitter.com/41ADwGQnQQ
Where he wins: Onwuzurike is a crazy blend of raw power and length, and it allows him to functionally two-gap and take on double teams despite being listed at only 288 pounds. His ability to drop his hips, widen his base and hold the point of attack to blocks from multiple angles is very impressive for how lean he is. He shows quality lateral quickness that allows him to side-step blockers that are trying to explode into his body early off the snap. Onwuzurike’s ability to engage blockers, press them off his body and dispose of them is a thing of beauty.
Where he can improve in 2020: Onwuzurike doesn’t lack in technique but what he does is leave his chest open too often, putting him into recovery mode too early. His hand placement both before contact and preparing for contact can be a little lackadaisical and forces him to rely on pure strength rather than leverage too often. As a pass rusher right now, Onwuzurike is simply a pocket pusher that needs to improve his body control to slip around contact once he gets blockers off-balance to showcase three-down ability.
Big 2020 matchups: Unfortunately, Onwuzurike and other Washington players won’t get a chance to showcase their talents this season (as of now) because the Pac 12 has cancelled their fall season. This could hurt his stock in terms of showcasing that pass-rush ability but he should have a chance at the Senior Bowl to dominate one-on-one reps and ride his fantastic run defense film.
College football officially began this weekend with Central Arkansas taking on Austin Peay.
Hopefully, teams and colleges are able to stay safe and we continue to see an increase in games scheduled to allow more of these players from conferences with cancelled seasons to play this year.