Big Ten ballcarriers found out in 2016 why Phillips has been known by the nickname "Wild Man" since childhood. The nephew of famous rapper and Miami football booster Luther Campbell attempted to start his collegiate career with the University of Cincinnati, but did not play there. After one season with Copiah-Lincoln Community College (49 tackles, four sacks), Phillips transferred to Illinois, where he started three times in 12 games played in 2015 (26 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks). He blossomed as a senior, garnering first-team All-Big Ten honors with 56 tackles, 20 tackles for loss (ranked ninth in the FBS), and team-high nine sacks.
Flashed disruptive quickness against the run this season. Effective in stunt game with sudden inside charge off snap. Pursuit motor and effort are above average. Chases beyond line of scrimmage for the stop. Rarely misses the mark as a tackler. Closes out the ball as much as possible before chesting up the tackle. Good agility and lateral slide quickness to track down ball carriers. Closing burst has necessary acceleration. Has balance and redirection to play in space. Adequate burst into his rush. Should benefit from wider rush angle as an outside linebacker in the pros. Consistent production posting a sack in eight of his 12 starts in 2016.
Just one year as a full-time starter. Thin lower body possesses no emergency brake when blockers start driving him off the edge. Will need to add mass and muscle to handle run-stopping responsibilities and that may take time. Hand usage at point of attack is poor. Needs to keep punch inside the frame to maximize his length. Needs to learn hand skills to counter early punches and reset into an advantageous position. Surprising lack of edge-bending in his rush. Face-up rusher who is often punched with shoulders still parallel to line of scrimmage. Tracks to quarterback are too linear and lack improvisation.
Sources Tell Us
"He had the better season, but (Dawuane) Smoot is more skilled and will probably be the better pro. Smoot will get drafted higher, I know that." -- AFC North scout
He's not very big, long or strong and his current pass rush approach won't cut it on the NFL level. However, his flexibility and agility could be viewed as moldable rush traits with the right position coach working the clay. Phillips will need to beef up some, but he didn't look out of place when asked to play in space at the Senior Bowl. Phillips has NFL backup talent but could work his way into playing time if he makes the necessary improvements as a rusher.