MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Jaylon Ferguson and Oshane Ximines would love to be the next Marcus Davenport.
They’re already following in Davenport’s steps, going from prolific Conference USA pass rushers to the Senior Bowl. Davenport last year parlayed that success into the first round of the NFL draft, getting picked 14th overall by the New Orleans Saints.
This week, Louisiana Tech’s Ferguson — the NCAA career sacks leader — and Old Dominion’s Ximines are among the edge rushers trying to improve their own draft stock at the Senior Bowl, including Mississippi State’s highly rated Montez Sweat .
“Marcus Davenport opened the door for players like me and Oshane,” Ferguson said. “Conference USA, we have a lot of great pass rushers. Marcus Davenport came down here last year and he really kicked the door down for a lot of us to come down here and shine.”
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The three practices before representatives of NFL teams leading up to Saturday’s game give them a chance to go against elite offensive line prospects like Washington State tackle Andre Dillard.
And maybe take advantage of the opportunity like Davenport did.
“I watched Marcus Davenport before you guys even knew about him,” Ximines said. “We played against him at UTSA (Texas-San Antonio). We were both young. I was a freshman. He was a sophomore. We kind of eyed each other … It’s just awesome to see where he ended up. He’s a hell of a player. I’m glad that everything worked out for him, and I’m looking to follow in his footsteps.”
Ferguson feels he has plenty to prove even after breaking Terrell Suggs’ NCAA career sacks record with 2.5 sacks in the Hawaii Bowl against Hawaii.
“You know, I’ve got 45 career sacks, all-time NCAA career leader, but I’m here to show I can do it against better competition,” Ferguson said. “Right now, I’m trying to prove everybody wrong who’s got stuff to say about my game and criticized everything I did up to this point.”
Here’s a look at a few of the top edge rushers at the Senior Bowl:
— Mississippi State’s Sweat might be the most highly rated player at the all-star game and is projected as a potential Top 10 pick. He’s drawn plenty of attention with big plays in Senior Bowl practices. The two-time All-SEC performer had 22 sacks over the past two seasons and was a second-team AP All-American.
— Charles Omenihu, DE, Texas: Finished his career with a big senior season, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors. He had 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.
— Ximines, DE, Old Dominion: Was a defensive playmaker throughout his career, finishing fifth in FBS with 12 sacks as a senior. He also forced 11 fumbles and collected 33 sacks in his four-year career. He ranked tied for first in forced fumbles among active players and trailed only Ferguson in career sacks. He and teammate, wide receiver Travis Fulgham, are the first Old Dominion players at the Senior Bowl.
“Conference USA is not Power 5, but when I get out there it’s just a number and a person,” Ximines said.
—Zach Allen , DE, Boston College: Had 18.5 sacks over the past three seasons with 40 tackles for loss. Could have been an early-round pick last season but returned as a senior.
None of them were more prolific at bringing down quarterbacks in college than Ferguson. He led the nation with a league-record 17.5 sacks last season.
Now, he’s got to convince teams he can have success as a pass rusher in the NFL, too.
“They know I can play,” Ferguson said. “If I couldn’t play, I wouldn’t be here right now. Right now, it’s just showing I can play against better competition.”
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