Derrick Brown, a defensive tackle out of Auburn University, is one of the best players in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Detroit Lions hold the third pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. It would make sense for the team then, to get one of their three highest graded players in the draft barring a potential trade down situation. With Derrick Brown, a defensive tackle out of Auburn, there is the potential to have both of those things happen.
While taking a defensive tackle in the top three of the draft is frowned on in the modern NFL, where coverage is becoming increasingly more valuable, trading down and still picking up a top three player in the draft outside of the top three is something that must be considered. Unfortunately, defensive tackles are a heavy rotation position. Unlike Jeffrey Okudah, who we profiled in part one of this series, Brown likely wouldn’t play even close to 95% of snaps like Okudah could.
However, there are many things that Derrick Brown does extremely well that would be a huge asset to the Detroit Lions for the next five plus years. He has the potential, like Okudah, to be one of the best players in this draft class. Brown will make an immediate day one impact for the Lions, or any other team that drafts him in the upcoming draft this April.
Derrick Brown’s Pass Rushing Ability Is Strong
The first thing that many fans are looking in the Lions moves this off-season is an improved pass rush. While many fans are clamoring for an EDGE player, an even bigger improvement could come from the defensive interior. The Da’Shawn Hand‘ and Mike Daniels injuries last season severely hindered the Lions pass rush. The team got absolutely zero pressure from the inside.
This was one thing that actually was particularly impressive with Brown’s tape. He is most known as a run defender, but his pass rushing also really stood out as impressive. While he’s not Aaron Donald generational, Brown has the upside to become a Kenny Clark type of pass rusher. Clark was PFF’s third highest graded interior pass rusher this year playing for the Lions’ rival Green Bay Packers this season.
There are three areas of pass rushing that are important when looking at defensive tackle to start out with. First, do they have a bull rush and natural strength to collapse the pocket? Second, do they have the hand usage, hand placement, and technique to beat their offensive lineman? Third, is do they have the athleticism and motor to be able to beat the opposing lineman? Bonus points to players who draw or shed double and triple teams.
It is important to make sure, especially in the Lions scheme, that a player has the potential to collapse the pocket. This is what generates sustained pressure up the middle, and most importantly, repeatable pressure throughout the course of an entire game. Derrick Brown is one of the best prospects in recent years in this particular area. He has elite functional strength, and on several occasions against several high quality opponents this season showcased his ability to collapse the pocket and disrupt the quarterback’s ability to step into the throw.
In addition to the pocket collapse and functional strength however, Brown exhibits consistent fundamentals technically as well, which is what allows him to get quick pressure against elite college competition and should help him translate to the NFL as a pass rusher also. While his move set is not quite yet at an elite level, he has showcased a swim move and rip move vs the national champion LSU Tigers this year, as well as a spin move vs the Alabama Crimson Tide.
What was most impressive, however, was Brown’s ability to utilize counter moves and vary his pass rush moves depending on matchup. If he got too far up field winning with his elite hand usage and technique, he could counter move back inside with a swim and have a free shot at the quarterback. If he was getting double teamed, he could attack the middle to try and split then counter outside with a spin move to get around the double. When Brown was facing athletic offensive lineman but knew he was stronger, he could easily plow through them with a classic and effective bull rush to get deep into the pocket quickly.
What makes Brown stand out additionally though, is how he utilizes his hands, and his ability to stay active throughout the play. If he’s being held or isn’t able to get a move to work, he is willing to hand fight and has found ways to help free himself up to reset his pad level and leverage to put him in more ideal rushing positions. So while he has a lot of the technical tools at their base level, the best part of his pass rushing ability right now is his mental traits and willingness to improve and grow year over year in his time at Auburn.
A Tackling Machine Ready To Achieve In The NFL
This section of the Derrick Brown draft profile will be short and sweet, because there isn’t really all that much to explain here. He doesn’t miss tackles. He was one of very few defenders in the entire country this season that had exactly zero missed tackles all season (through 42 attempts). Brown enters the NFL already a generational tackler for a defensive tackle with elite technique and the ability to tackle while still being engaged with a defender has been shown as well. There is absolutely zero concern about his ability to translate as a tackler to the NFL level, and is probably his biggest strength as a prospect.
Motor and Athletic Ability
One of the most important traits that all players absolutely should have to be a long term and successful NFL player is motor. Players should showcase consistent effort on every single play. This is particularly important for defenders, who could be targeted at any portion of the play regardless of run or pass. The same can be said for athletic ability. Typically, the more athletic a player is, the higher the ceiling of that player to be successful in the NFL should he develop the requisite technique at his specific position. Both are very important parts of any football player’s evaluation, and Derrick Brown excels in both areas.
Derrick Brown is one of the rare breed of defensive tackles who goes hard for the full duration of the play every snap he’s on the field. This, combined with his athleticism, allows him to chase down plays someone at his size (expected to be approximately 6’4″, 320 pounds without having official combine measurements at the time of this article) should not be able to make.
There is one perfect example of this that really showcases everything that you not only need to see, but want to see, out of a defensive lineman. This example comes from Auburn’s game against the LSU Tigers, with 1:35 seconds left to go in the third quarter.
It’s a third and eight situation. Derrick Brown gets double teamed off the snap. He gets about five yards deep into the pocket against the double, before likely #1 overall draft choice and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow escapes the pocket to the opposite side, around the left edge (Brown was lined up on the offense’s right guard). Brown then quickly notices, frees himself up from the double team, and chases down the mobile quarterback ten yards past the line of scrimmage. He makes plays this way more often than you might think for someone of his size. That’s due to his combination of high motor and athleticism.
Another common trend that translates to every aspect of this Derrick Brown draft profile is his athleticism. He is versatile and can play up and down the line, and has even shown in some very rare circumstances he could play as far out as 7-tech and has gotten pressure around the edge in some occasions. He’s best served as a 0-4 tech in the NFL (inside the offensive tackles) to maximize his athletic ability, that’s still plenty versatile and would give him several opportunities to see the field immediately in Detroit.
While the Combine hasn’t occurred yet as of the time of this article, he is a nose tackle so he shouldn’t test in the same realm as players like Ed Oliver or Rashan Gary. However, he should still test at a very high level when compared to nose tackles, and other players in his size range, and his athleticism has translated to the football field against strong SEC competition.
Derrick Brown’s Run Defense Is Top Tier
Saving the best for last, Derrick Brown is an elite run defender. There are several key areas to look for when it comes to run defense. Brown has shown them at a consistent level against SEC competition in college.
The first area that Derrick Brown excels in is anchor ability. He has excellent strength and it’s very difficult to remember any time where he was moved backwards, including when he faced triple teams, which happened more frequently than any other prospect so far this year.
Brown also does a fantastic job of getting off the line quickly. This is in part due to the athleticism. He had ideal hand placement and a nice strong initial first punch against opposing offensive lineman. If he is only responsible for one gap penetration, he can shoot through the gap using that burst to make a play. If he needs to two gap, like he would in Detroit, he can use his burst to control both gaps and maintain leverage over both areas by getting himself into position to maintain both gaps.
Brown has great mental traits as well, and has shown he can very consistently two gap against high quality competition in the SEC. This is what allows him to play nose and consistently dominate in a difficult role at Auburn. His role placed a lot of emphasis on his ability to win consistently at the line of scrimmage without making any mistakes.
While he sets himself up well against the run and typically wins the first phase of the play, Derrick Brown also does a great job of winning the second phase as well. He has shown the ability to separate and get free from his blockers on a consistent basis. Brown shows the hand usage, activity level, and mental traits to be able to shed blocks just as much as eat them and take them away from other defenders on the line.
Overall, his run defense is what makes Derrick Brown one of the best players in this draft class, and the best defensive tackle entering the 2020 NFL Draft. He has experience two-gapping, and has all of the requisite traits needed to translate effectively day one to the NFL level and find success quickly as a run defender. Dexter Lawrence was PFF’s highest graded rookie interior defender last year and their ninth ranked rookie overall. Derrick Brown should be much better than him as a pass rusher and very similar against the run when compared to the New York Giants’ defensive tackle.
Extra Notes on Derrick Brown
Another critical note on Derrick Brown and one key reason why the Lions might fall in love with him in this year’s draft process is his strong character background. Derrick Brown is a former Wuerffel Trophy award top three finalist, as “someone who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement”.
He was nominated as a finalist for the Pop Warner Award, “given to a graduating senior who has made a difference on the field, in the classroom, and in his community,” as well as “serving as a role model for young Pop Warner student athletes.” They also add that one of their core values is sportsmanship in addition to the academic and community service standards.
Brown also won this years’ Senior CLASS Award. This award is chosen by current college football coaches and media and given to the player who exhibits the most success in four key areas of excellence: the classroom, the community, competition and his or her character. Derrick Brown won the football version of the award, as the award is given to one player across every college sport and is one of the biggest honors possibly received by an NCAA senior student athlete.
For those interested in learning more about Derrick Brown and why he won the award, here is the article from the Senior CLASS Award site going into more detail. It also has some testimonials and is worth the read for those interested in learning more about the type of character and culture he could help create in Detroit, or any other place he ends up getting drafted.
Derrick Brown should be a top target for the Detroit Lions
Whether it be his academic and character that he exhibits at an extraordinary and consistent level, or his on field accomplishments, Derrick Brown checks all of the boxes the Detroit Lions normally look for in a first round draft choice. He’s a great scheme fit for the Lions as a versatile player who can learn from or replace Damon Harrison, in what could potentially be one of the best defensive line combinations in the league next season should the Lions draft him. His ability to not only run defend, but also his high ceiling rushing the passer and the traits he’s shown in every area of his game make him a very safe option to take high in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Lions biggest need in terms of volume this year entering free agency happens to be the defensive tackle position, with the potential of losing Mike Daniels and Snacks Harrison and the departure of A’Shawn Robinson looking likely. In every area discussed in this Derrick Brown draft profile, he could come in to Detroit day one and instantly play an impact role in improving the team’s struggling interior pass rush, putting pressure on the quarterback, but also giving the team a strong interior run defense as well as solid and consistent tackling.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow @C_Robbins_ on Twitter for more info on Derrick Brown, and leave me your thoughts on the Detroit Lions Subreddit! Check out some of Chris’s other articles including other Draft Profiles for the Detroit Lions Podcast here.