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Senior Bowl Defensive Prospects for Cowboys to Watch

With the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl set to start practices on February 1, the Dallas Cowboys will be making their annual trip to Mobile to get a first-hand view at some of the top prospects in this year’s draft. The rosters are set, with seven players from my most recent mock draft attending, and several others that could fill the final four spots in the draft order that have yet to be determined.

A year ago, Dallas selected a trio of defenders that competed in the Senior Bowl, in Osa Odighizuwa, Chauncey Golston, and Jabril Cox. All three made a name for themselves at the event, with Cox proving to be one of the most capable linebackers in the draft in coverage.

This year, will see over 130 players compete with the New York Jets and Detroit Lions’ coaching staffs heading up the two squads. For Dallas, there are plenty of holes to fill on the roster, considering they have 23 players hitting free agency.

Let’s take a look at Senior Bowl prospects on the defensive side of the ball for the Cowboys to keep an eye on.

Offense | Defense

senior bowl prospects
Credit: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Senior Bowl Offensive Prospects for the Dallas Cowboys to Watch

Arnold Ebiketie, OLB/DE, Penn State | National Team

This may be wishful thinking, as Ebiketie’s stock could rise into the top 20 before the pre-draft process is over. After a solid year at Temple, Ebiketie broke out in his one season in Happy Valley.

Everything is there for him to be a game-changing edge player in the NFL. He’s an explosive athlete with long arms and a physical mentality. While his speed and size make him an ideal fit on the weak side, Ebiketie worked hard this season with his take-on ability and proved to be a capable player in that area.

His length and explosive nature make him tough to handle at the point of attack, and his motor and awareness allow him to stay locked onto the ball, despite taking on blockers. After having 8.5 tackles for loss in six games as a junior at Temple, he put up 18 as a senior with the Nittany Lions.

Ebiketie also had a career-high 9.5 sacks and 52 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. With Dan Quinn back in 2022, Ebiketie could play as a stand-up linebacker on the edge, allowing Micah Parsons to play his natural position in the base defense.

As an edge rusher, Ebiketie has all the tools to be a star at the next level but still needs to continue broadening his strategy of implementing his strength, length, and burst to get to the quarterback. He will get the chance to do so during his week in Mobile.

Having said that, I’d love to see Dallas put Ebiketie in Quinn’s hands and let him make the most out of his exceptional skill set. With Randy Gregory and Dorance Armstrong both set to hit the open market, an edge player could turn into this defense’s top need.

Cameron Thomas, DE, San Diego State | American Team

While Ebiketie is the most-gifted edge rusher in Mobile, Thomas is the most technically sound. I love his burst off the snap, and he does an excellent job of executing a wide array of pass-rush moves.

His hands are terrific, using rip, club, or pull techniques. He also shows a jarring punch that can shake his opponent off balance. When it’s time to turn the corner, Thomas gets low and accelerates with good power through the player’s hip and the balance to finish the play once he is free.

In a class with some terrific edge rushers, Thomas’ name belongs in the mix as one of the best. What I want to see from him in Moblie is simple, just dominate. The offensive linemen he is facing will be getting a ton of coaching, which often makes for a less reactive player in drills.

They will be trying to implement what they are learning, and Thomas is a step ahead of the game when it comes to technique. That means he should have a lot of success, especially early in the week.

I want to see him be the type of havoc-wreaking presence he can be that keeps scouts and coaches boasting about his ability. This difference between Thomas and Ebiketie is that Ebiketie is a special kind of athlete that can hold up in space as a stand-up linebacker.

Make no mistake about it, Thomas is a terrific athlete, but Ebiketie may be in a class that includes few others. Because of that, Dallas would likely keep Thomas’ hand on the ground more often in their scheme.

Still, he’s another option that can replace some of the pass-rush production they are losing, and Thomas even has the kind of versatility to kick inside and rush the passer.

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Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah | National Team

While Ebiketie and Thomas are both options for Dallas at 24, Lloyd is my highest-ranked player participating in Mobile. After standing out in his first three years at Utah (145 tackles, 22 TFL, 8.5 sacks in 22 games), Lloyd took his game to another level in 2022.

In 14 games, he put up 111 tackles, 22 TFL, and seven sacks. However, the biggest jump was his ability in coverage, as Lloyd put up a career-high four interceptions and six pass deflections.

He became a true three-down linebacker, and it’s seen his draft stock soar into the top 20 of my board. Lloyd is the top-ranked linebacker on my board, and adding his versatile skill set to pair next to Parsons would give the Cowboys a ton of versatility in designing defenses on passing downs.

Lloyd won’t get the chance to stand out against with his physicality during practice. Still, we will get to see just how much he’s grown in coverage. He will get to match up against running backs and tight ends and even cover the deep-middle of the field.

Lloyd will also get the chance to show off his abilities as a blitzer, which is also a strength. I also want to see the alpha in him shine. Everyone on his team knows who he is, and if he stays healthy through the week, he will be the starting inside linebacker on game day.

I want to see him take command of that huddle and be the tone-setter. By the way, there is a lot I said about Lloyd that applies to Wyoming’s Chad Muma.

While he ranks in the top 50 on my board, I’m in the minority, considering the other people I have talked to about him. However, that will start to change after this week.

senior bowl dallas cowboys
Credit: Lynne Sladky/AP Photo

Derion Kendrick, S, Georgia | American Team

While Dallas may have plenty of options at the cornerback position, that could change if Anthony Brown and/or Jourdan Lewis are released to create cap space. For Kendrick, talent has never been an issue, nor has success.

He was part of National Championship teams for Clemson (2018) and Georgia (2021), and took a similar path as Trevon Diggs, starting his career as a wide receiver before switching to corner. However, discipline issues got him dismissed from Clemson, including a pair of misdemeanors towards the end of his time with the Tigers.

Kendrick will undoubtedly get plenty of questions from teams about those issues, though reports suggest he turned over a new leaf during his time in Athens. On the field, he’s a terrific athlete with above-average size and length.

While his ideal fit may be in press-man at this time, the more he plays on the defensive side, the more comfortable he will get in more situations. Early separation tends to make him grabby when he’s got the make-up speed to recover.

His ball skills are terrific, and like Diggs, once he gets his head turned, he starts tracking the ball like a receiver. Kendrick also has good strength that shows up in coverage and stepping up against the run.

In Mobile, he will get plenty of coaching to further his development at the position, and I’m excited to see how he implements it. He will be tested with the speed of Calvin Austin and the size of Jalen Tolbert in practice.

However, if he has a great week, people may start discussing him as a candidate to slide into the end of day one.

Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor | National Team

Pitre is an intriguing player to keep an eye on, especially since Dan Quinn is returning. He’s a physical, downhill player that shows outstanding instincts against the run. What’s interesting is that some of his best snaps come from a role more traditionally assigned to a linebacker.

He’s so quick to react to his keys and shoots gaps to make stops in the backfield. Pitre made 29.5 TFL over his past two seasons as a full-time starter. Last year, Quinn took a similar skill set, in that of Jayron Kearse, and designed a role for the former special-teams ace to shine.

Pitre is four inches shorter than Kearse and at least 20 pounds lighter. However, Pitre is the kind of versatile defender Quinn can make the most of in Dallas.

I do have questions about where he will fit in coverage. Part of Kearse’s appeal was his size at 6’4”, which allowed him to match up with tight ends in Dallas’ man-heavy scheme. At six feet tall, Pitre will be at a disadvantage in that role.

In fact, he has several deficiencies in coverage, and I want to see him improve in some form or fashion during the week. I don’t think he will ever shine in this role, but many said the same about Kearse before his time as a Cowboy.

Whether it’s Pitre matching up on running backs or proving to be capable in underneath zone coverage, any success will help defensive coordinators gain a better view of how to fit him into their unit.

Proving that means he can stay on the field for passing downs, and that opens up the ability to send Pitre on the blitz, another strong area of his game. It would also help solidify the Stafford, Texas-native’s day-two grade.

Jordan Stout, P, Penn State | National Team

To be clear, the Cowboys need to do their due diligence on every special teams player in this class. Pro Bowl punter Bryan Anger and long-snapper Jake McQuade are free agents, and cutting kicker Greg Zuerlein could save Dallas $2.5M in cap space.

Stout is the one I am highlighting because he’s versatile and one of several specialists in this class that are likely to end up being drafted. He’s a tall punter that shows quick feet to get his punts off free of danger.

Against Rutgers, he continuously pinned them deep in their territory to help contribute to a shut-out effort. Additionally, he attempted 32 field goals in his career, and also made 38-40 extra points.

I’m not suggesting he could do both in the NFL, but having the ability to kick in a pinch adds to his value. There won’t be much for him to prove in the practice sessions, other than just showing off his leg strength and ability to angle his punts and alter the rotation, which he did several times in the performance against Rutgers.

Still, it’s an audition where the Cowboys can get a head start on the process of finding a punter if Anger finds a new home in the offseason.

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