We talked about Blankenship’s ability to disguise last season after he earned C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors following a two-interception performance against Tennessee State (see below). After a strong start to the 2019 campaign, the senior defensive back went down to an ankle injury in mid-October. Blankenship enters 2020 with over 200 tackles (233), 15.5 tackles for losses, eight interceptions, 18 passed defensed and two blocked kicks. The former West Limestone HS (Ala.) star has a chance to hear his name called in the 2021 NFL Draft.We break down his diverse, well-rounded game in our video feature.
It didn’t take long for Graham, Jr. to make an impact on Oregon’s campus. The preseason 2020 All-Pac-12 corner has now made 39 consecutive starts due to a combination of agility, football smarts and toughness. We go inside the game of one of college football’s best perimeter defenders in our video spotlight. Heading into 2020, Graham is the active FBS leader in passes defensed (40) and has eight career interceptions.
Lenoir, a former four-star recruit as an athlete coming out of Salesian HS (Calif.), brings a fast aggressive approach to the cornerback spot. Not only does he support the run with an element of pizzazz, he works to disrupt the wide receiver’s release at the line of scrimmage. After making the numerical switch from No. 15 to No. 6 in 2019, the AP second-team All-Pac-12 corner finished with 47 tackles and nine passes defensed. In a conference loaded with solid players on the edges, the senior will look to take the next step in 2020 along with running mate Thomas Graham, Jr.
Auburn senior LB K.J. Britt brings the thunder week-to-week in the SEC. In his first year as a starter, Britt earned All-SEC honors after breaking out as a junior with 10 tackles for loss. We take a quick peek at his game in our video spotlight.
Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell has already left his mark with the Cardinals in just two seasons on campus. The speedy 5-foot-9 wideout is perhaps the ACC’s toughest one-on-one tackle in the open field. The former Miami Northwestern High School (Fla.) Miami-Dade County Player of the Year starred as a quarterback at the prep level. His on-field savvy is present when diagnosing either zone or man coverage. Atwell led the ACC in receiving yards in 2019 (1,276) and finished second in receiving touchdowns (12).
On August 30, 2014, the Florida State Seminoles squared off against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Advocare Classic. The result? A hard-fought 37-31 victory for the top-ranked Seminoles. The game within the game featured two future NFL All-Pros matching up at different positions then they would eventually star at in the NFL. At the time, current Kansas City WR Tyreek Hill was a running back/return specialist and Los Angeles Rams CB Jalen Ramsey was starring in a safety/nickel back role. In what proved to be a precursor for the future, Hill tallied an incredible total of 278 all-purpose yards. Ramsey contributed 12 tackles and 1/2 tackle for loss, while displaying outstanding agility and body control. We go inside one of college football’s best matchups of the past decade.
Washington’s Elijah Molden takes his footwork as seriously as his father, Alex, did at Oregon before becoming a first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 1996 NFL Draft. Molden is frequently tasked with the tough assignments in the litany of man coverage used by Washington current head coach and former defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. The former West Lin High School (Ore.) product earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2019 after finishing with 79 tackles, four interceptions and 13 pass break-ups.
Holland heads into the 2020 campaign as arguably the best playmaking safety in the Pac-12. Over the last two seasons, the hybrid DB/PR has posted nine interceptions in his 19 passes defensed. For good measure, he found time to average over 15 yards per punt return in 2019. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Bishop O’Dowd HS (Calif.) was once a star wide receiver at the prep level, eclipsing the 1,000-yard receiving mark on just 35 receptions as a senior. Our film review found a player with natural ball skills and an offensive approach to the defensive side of the ball.
Tulsa defensive end Trevis Gipson totaled 13 quarterback sacks in college and in 2019 doubled his sack production from four to eight. DraftNasty’s Corey Chavous caught up with Gipson (6’3, 259) during the 2020 Senior Bowl media day to discuss his favorite pass rush moves and the chances of improving his draft stock.
Chavous: You worked so much at the four-technique (DL) and oftentimes you play bigger than your size, what do you feel like this week offers in terms of showing you can be as an edge rusher?
Gipson: I feel like that will show my versatility to scouts and general managers that will be observing our practice. Like you said, I came in sometimes four-I (inside shade of tackle), four (head-up versus offensive tackle) or sometimes even five (outside shoulder of offensive tackle), but just being on that edge showing I can bull rush or speed rush, speed-to-power, just showing a lot of versatility in my pass rush. I feel like that will help my overall draft stock at the end of the day.
Chavous: Some of our notes on you include the right-hand post from the left defensive end spot and then using that same arm to dip and make the 90-degree turn against Cincinnati this year. When you go against bigger tackles, like the guys you’ll face this week, do you feel like your long arms will allow you to get some extension away from these big tackles?
Gipson: I feel like it will. I have certain moves for certain tackles. Taller tackles I like to dip the corner or use my speed because they are longer than me. It all depends on what type of tackle I’m going against and just being able to turn that corner…wearing that down. That will open my opportunities to do the bull rush or power pass rushes overall.
Chavous: Do you think if you show here what you showed against other Power 5 teams that you could move up into the first round discussion?
Gipson: Most definitely, my confidence in myself is out of this roof. I feel like once I show them my pass rush is unstoppable in my opinion then it will help my draft stock. Overall, run-stopping, also, I feel like that will help me. Just dominating in all aspects man, that’s a part of my game plan. Of course everyone wants their draft stock to rise, but you’ve got put in the work to do it. That’s my first milestone and I’ll cross that coming this afternoon (here at the Senior Bowl).
Chavous: You kind of touched upon it, you’re a good run defender. That separates you from potentially some of the other players. Why is it such a commitment to you in terms of holding the point or being able to two-gap?
Gipson: In order to get to third down, you have to stop first and second.
Gipson: I feel like I have more fun rushing the passer but I can’t do that unless I stop the run first. Of course delivering big hits….just enjoying the physicality of the game, that’s part of the reason I do it man. I love the game. You can’t take physicality or you can’t take running away from the game. Everybody is gonna run the ball. Some teams more than others…like Navy.
Chavous: Right, right.
Gipson: I didn’t get many pass rushes versus them (Navy).
Chavous: Protect your legs….(laughs).
Gipson: Ah man, I had blood coming down my shins and everything. It was crazy man. But stopping the run is a big part of getting to that third down and that’s what comes first. So I take that more serious.
Chavous: You kind of remind me of those guys who are multi-dimensional, like Za’Darius Smith or Preston Smith, the guys that play up in Green Bay. Guys who can play the run and rush the passer. Who do you pattern your game after at the next level? Maybe a guy where you say that kind of reminds me of myself a little bit. I can work on developing some of what he already has in his arsenal.
Gipson: I like to compare myself to Marcus Davenport (New Orleans Saints), he’s 6-foot-7 (6’6″). But just his story, coming out of UTSA, a small school, he was underlooked.
Chavous: He kind of rose up during this week (Senior Bowl) too, right?
Gibson: Yeah, he did and that’s my plan. Seeing him become the 14th overall pick, it just gave me nothing but hope and pride. I’m going to try and kill this week and show scouts what I can do. Overall, perform at a high level.
Chavous: Thanks a lot man, we enjoyed watching you play. Best of luck.
Gibson: Thanks a lot.
If it looks like Antoine Brooks, Jr. is anticipating the play before it happens, as if he is a quarterback, it is because he was one.
Brooks, Jr. excelled at Duval High School in Bowie, Maryland, where he was a quarterback and a defensive back. As a quarterback, he took home the Prince George’s Class 4A Offensive Player of the Year in 2015 despite playing in just six games after suffering a broken wrist and leg.
Almost five years later, Brooks, Jr. sees how his experiences in high school have shaped him into a versatile defensive prospect.
“Honestly (playing quarterback) helped me a lot with the transition of being on defense,” Brooks, Jr. said during media day at the Senior Bowl. “Even with being a leader. It just shows I can communicate and get the right play down.”
The three-year starter was asked to digest a bevy of tasks within the team’s system. This allowed him to play a variety of roles from week-to-week.
At the University of Maryland, Brooks, Jr. played nickel back, safety and outside linebacker.
While he is known in College Park for his diving interceptions or hard sideline hits, the cerebral part of the game is not lost on Brooks, Jr.
Unprompted, Brooks, Jr. recalled a moment from this past year’s AFC Championship game when his favorite player to watch, Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, correctly diagnosed a read-option pass to Titans receiver Corey Davis over the middle of the field.
Mathieu knocked Davis two yards behind the line of scrimmage for a loss but this was after he saw the Patriots run the same play for N’Keal Harry, who broke Mathieu’s tackle and got a first down in the red zone in Week 14 of the regular season.
Mathieu then took to Twitter after the game and said film preparation helped him identify the play and correct his previous error.
“It just shows watching film is so important,” Brooks Jr. said. “Those are the little things that help me succeed.”
His film study made a huge difference for the Terps defense, who used him as a Swiss Army knife.
Brooks, Jr. broke out during his sophomore season when he transitioned from linebacker to defensive back in the offseason.
In 2017, he had 9.5 tackles for loss, which were the most by a Big Ten defensive back in the regular season. He also led the Terps with 53 solo tackles, while also contributing a quarterback sack and two interceptions.
The success he had as a nickel back hasn’t pigeonholed Brooks, Jr. During interviews with NFL personnel at the 2020 Senior Bowl, he admitted that his preferred position is strong safety.
Like a terrapin, Brooks, Jr. is undersized but can adjust to different surroundings.
“You just have to ask me (where to play),” Brooks, Jr. said of the prospects of being asked to play multiple positions. “I’m going 100 percent and I win most of my battles.”
The numbers at the University of Maryland speak volumes. In his career, Brooks, Jr. had nine pass deflections, four interceptions, 27.5 tackles for loss and three-and-a half quarterback sacks.
Brooks Jr. knows his speed will be a question mark if he is asked to play in the secondary, but he trusts his 40-yard dash time will calm any doubts.
“I’m hoping to run in the low 4.4s,” said Brooks Jr., who ran a 4.5 going into college. Worth noting, he ran a 4.64 at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Confidence wasn’t something that was lacking for Brooks, Jr. during Senior Bowl week. The former Terp could be seen on the practice field communicating demonstrably during the on-field drills and asking questions from the Cincinnati Bengals coaches, who led the South roster.
However, the three-time All-Big Ten performer is ready to put the questions and talking aside and get to what really matters.
“I’m just ready to play football,” Brooks, Jr. said.