NFL Hot Press: Illinois Could Have Two First Round DEs

Illinois Could Have Two First Round DEs

Updated Sept. 21, 2016
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

There has been a good amount of hype about Illinois defensive end Dawuane Smoot, as a few draft analysts have projected Smoot among the top 10 prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft. In speaking with multiple NFL teams, they say they are grading Smoot as a mid-to-late first-rounder. While Smoot is a well regarded prospect, some scouts say they like Illinois’ other defensive end Carroll Phillips more, and those teams think that Phillips has a shot to also make it into Thursday night next April.

Some sources absolutely love Phillips, while others are lukewarm on him. Perhaps size and scheme fit is coming into the evaluation because teams that run a 3-4 are high on Phillips while the lukewarm sources are with 4-3 formations. Currently, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Phillips is one of the leaders nationally with four sacks in three games. He has recorded a sack in each game to go with 18 tackles and nine tackles for a loss. He has the second-most tackles for a loss in the nation behind only Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers.
The teams that love Phillips say he is super athletic and twitchy. They feel that his speed and athleticism is very similar to Leonard Floyd’s. Like Floyd at Georgia, Phillips can struggle some on run downs. However, they feel that he is a very gifted, natural, pass-rushing talent. They see him as a potential first-rounder. As one could expect, the teams that aren’t in love with Phillips don’t see him as a high pick. 

Sources say that Smoot is very athletic and explosive off the edge. However, they feel he is more disruptive than productive, and that could be the case in the NFL. Smoot has 12 tackles and two for a loss with zero sacks thus far in 2016. They feel he is the kind of player who will have a lot of pressures on the quarterback, but only a few sacks. Smoot is listed at 6-foot-3, 255-pounds but teams think that Smoot could be about 10 pounds heavier. Starting across from Jihad Ward, Smoot had a strong junior season in 2015, as he totaled eight sacks with 15 tackles for a loss, 40 tackles, two passes batted and three forced fumbles.

Teams also say that Illini defensive tackle Chunky Clement could be drafted on day three. While Illinois could be in store for a rough season under first-year head coach Lovie Smith, NFL scouts say that Smith and his staff are doing a good job of developing Phillips and Smoot for the pro game. That development could culminate in both being a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.