Dee Ford, Aaron Donald lead top linemen at Senior Bowl

The second day of workouts at the Senior Bowl are typically more enjoyable to watch because prospects are beginning to get comfortable with the playbook and their surroundings. The speed and tempo of drills draws closer to an NFL pace, with prospects flying to the ball from every angle.

Additionally, the extra hours of film study and playbook preparation allows players to play faster on both sides of the ball. With both team donning the pads in two-hour workouts, I decided to spend most of my time looking at the big bodies in the trenches. Here are some of my observations:


» Auburn DE Dee Ford: Ford has been one of the stars of the week, according to several scouts I spoke with on the practice field. Evaluators have been impressed with his first-step quickness and burst in pass-rush drills. Additionally, Ford has shown the ability to turn speed into power off the edge and dominated offensive tackles with his overall athleticism.

In run drills, Ford has been surprisingly stout at the point of attack despite measuring in at 6-2, 240 pounds. He has not only held his ground in one-on-one matchups, but he found a way to set the edge using his speed and athleticism.

With the NFL placing a premium on edge players with speed, quickness and explosive rush skills, Ford has certainly made a strong case to be included as one of the top pass rushers in the 2014 class.

» Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald: Donald is dispelling the notion that his substandard physical dimensions (6-0, 285) will be an issue at the next level. Donald has routinely blown by interior blockers with his first-step quickness, agility and explosiveness. He has complemented his athletic attributes with impressive hand skills at the point of attack. Donald's quick arm-over is one of the best moves I've seen executed by a pass rusher this season.

Against the run, Donald has been strong at the point of attack against single- and double-team blocks, showcasing exceptional leverage and lower-body strength. Donald naturally turns his hips into the hole against the double, which frees linebackers to run and chase in the middle.

Additionally, Donald has shown the ability to bull rush or forklift blockers into the backfield in one-on-one situations, leaving blockers unable to anticipate which move Donald will use to attack at the line of scrimmage. When I studied Donald during the regular season, I compared his game to Pro Bowl DT Geno Atkins. After watching him dominate the competition this week, I feel good about that assessment.

» BYU LB Kyle Van Noy: Van Noy has flown under the radar at the Senior Bowl, but scouts are very impressed with his disruptive skills and versatility. He has played four positions -- DE, SAM, WILL and MIKE -- and displayed exceptional playmaking skills at each spot.

Van Noy is a very good athlete with impressive instincts and awareness. He is a ball magnet in space, with a natural feel for reading and reacting to the passing game. As a rusher, Van Noy is sneaky smooth off the edge. He isn't the most explosive pass rusher but has a knack for sequencing his moves and bending around the corner on speed rushes.

Although I don't see him as an every-down rusher based on my assessment of his college game film, I definitely believe Van Noy could thrive as a blitzer in nickel situations. He has a feel for slipping through cracks to get to the quarterback, which is critical to succeeding as a rusher at the next level.

» Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman: Hageman is one of the most polarizing prospects in the 2014 class because of his remarkable height-weight-speed combination and his marginal production. He tantalizes scouts with his imposing physical stature (6-6, 311) and freakish athleticism as an interior defender. Hageman's length and movement skills are rare finds at the position; it is one of the reasons why he has been a standout defender during the first days of practice. He overwhelms interior blockers with his athleticism, yet has also shown the ability to win using strength and power.

Unfortunately, Hageman doesn't rev up his motor consistently to dominate overmatched blockers on the interior. That was one of his biggest issues in the regular season; it remains a concern watching him work against blockers in one-on-one and team drills.

While Hageman has certainly flashed impressive raw ability, he needs consistent reminders from Atlanta Falcons' defensive line coach Bryan Cox to finish each play. The former Pro Bowler has been loudly encouraging Hageman to give maximum effort on every down. From pursuing downfield following pass rush attempts to sprinting after the ball on each play, Cox has been on Hageman about his urgency and effort.

If Hageman heeds the message and exerts maximum effort on each snap, he could very well become the Pro Bowl-caliber defender that many envision based on his imposing physical dimensions and athletic attributes.


» Arizona State DT Will Sutton: The unnecessary weight gain by Sutton continues to hinder his chances of becoming a top pick. The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year reportedly played at 311 pounds this season after dominating the conference as a junior at 285 pounds. The added weight robbed Sutton of his explosiveness and first-step quickness -- the blue-chip qualities in his game.

Without an athleticism advantage to lean on in matchups against elite blockers, Sutton was marginalized as a rusher this season. The struggles have continued at the Senior Bowl, with Sutton looking slow and lethargic in drills. He is not explosive off the ball and fails to display the strength to overpower blockers with bull-rush maneuvers. Additionally, Sutton hasn't been able to win in one-on-one situations against the run or pass.

With a deep and talented collection of defensive linemen on display at the Senior Bowl, Sutton's slow start threatens to jeopardize his standing as potential starter at the next level.

» Louisville DE Marcus Smith: Smith is attempting to transition to linebacker at the Senior Bowl, but the move doesn't suit his skill set. The 6-3, 260 pound sack artist looks uncomfortable playing in space as a pass defender in coverage. That's to be expected from a defender who primarily played with his hand in the dirt, but his overall lack of athleticism and explosiveness makes it hard to envision him making the transition at the next level.

Additionally, Smith hasn't shown special skills as a pass rusher off the edge. He lacks the first-step quickness and burst to turn the corner on pass rush attempts. Speaking to a NFC South scout familiar with Smith's game, he told me that the Cardinals' star was a "one-trick pony" without the burst to win consistently on speed rushes. Additionally, he pointed out that Smith's gaudy production was inflated by his success as an interior rusher in nickel situations. With spread teams routinely using wide splits on the offensive line, Smith was able to use his agility and quickness to sneak past interior blockers. However, Smith's athleticism isn't regarded as elite by pro standards, making it unlikely for him to duplicate his success as a rusher at the next level.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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