Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 5: Auburn DT Derrick Brown

Eric Edholm
·10 min read
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

5. Auburn DT Derrick Brown

6-foot-5, 326 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.34 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Interior dominator who enters the NFL as an excellent, scheme-diverse run stopper — and could develop as a pass-rush talent.

The skinny: A 5-star Rivals recruit (and top-20 nationally), Brown was recruited by just about every big-name school out there but ended up signing with the Tigers over Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee. He played in all 13 games as reserve his true freshman season (on a defensive line that featured three future pros), making 11 tackles (1.5 for losses), one sack and one fumble recovery

As a sophomore in 2017, Brown started all 13 games and made 56 tackles (nine for losses), 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one blocked kick in 14 games. In 2018, Brown earned second-team all-SEC, making 48 tackles (10.5 for losses), 4.5 sacks and two pass breakups in starting all 13 games.

Brown decided to return to school in 2019, saying that his mother implored him to earn his degree. He was one of eight seniors to earn a first-round grade entering the 2019 season, and he bolstered his stock with 55 tackles (12.5 for losses), four sacks, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Brown was named first-team AP All-America and first-team All-SEC honors and was a finalist for both the Chuck Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy.

Brown, who turned 22 years old in April, chose to play in Auburn’s bowl game against Minnesota, saying: “My teammates elected me to be team captain in the fall, and I’m not going to shy away from my duties. This is my last chance to be able to go out and do it with my college teammates.” He attended the NFL scouting combine and performed every drill, opting not to repeat any of those drills at Auburn’s pro day (despite some poor combine results).

Upside: Explosive and powerful. Surprising burst off the line for a man his size. Was timed at 4.95 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Auburn. Set school record with 590-pound squat and ripped off 24 bench-press reps at the combine with 34 1/4-inch arms. Tremendous natural mass and length (81-inch wingspan).

Lined up most often as a 5-technique on the defense’s left side but played pretty much every technique along the line and on both sides. Could be unleashed as a nose tackle on pass-rushing fronts and not at all be out of place. Also could be a Pro Bowl 3-4 end. Faced nearly constant double teams and combo blocks.

Unusual flexibility and short-area quickness. Terrific feet for a big man. Unleashes an interior spin move that can freeze blockers (see Alabama game). Can actually bend around the edge better than some rushers 50 or 60 pounds lighter. Shows some pass-rush potential.

This is just phenomenal:

There are not many 330-pounders who can do this.
There are not many 330-pounders who can do this.

Disruptive — wrecks blocking schemes and timing. Changes the geometry of the backfield with his penetration. Shuts down lanes and forces the offense to adjust. Gets his huge paws up to close passing windows and bat down passes.

Is there tape of Brown whiffing on a tackle? If so, we’d like to see it. Uses his grizzly-bear arms to wrap up and not let go. Does more with one arm (see Alabama game) than some defensive linemen do with two.

Dominant stretches in big games — LSU, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, the bowl game vs. Minnesota, you name it. Demanded double teams consistently against LSU — winners of the Joe Moore Award, given to the best offensive line in the country — and still made hay, playing 71 snaps and dominating for most of them. Watch here as Brown (No. 5) pushes LSU OG Damien Lewis directly back into QB Joe Burrow with a “forklift”-type rush to help cause the sack by Brown’s teammate:

Watch Brown nearly lift a powerful offensive lineman back into the backfield.
Watch Brown nearly lift a powerful offensive lineman back into the backfield.

Brown also was the author of a few of the more unintentionally hilarious plays of the 2019 college football season. The first was at Florida when Brown picked up a fumble and started motoring back the other way — with some serious wheels for a man that size. Then watch what happened:

This was incredible athleticism — for a moment, anyway.
This was incredible athleticism — for a moment, anyway.

And two weeks later against Ole Miss, Auburn had some communication issues with personnel and had only 10 men on the field as the Rebels were about to snap the ball. Brown to the rescue — he comes racing in and happens to be in the right place at the right time. Still impressive, though:

Rich Rodriguez hates to see this.
Rich Rodriguez hates to see this.

Outstanding personal and football character. Team captain. Natural-born leader. Respected teammate. Smart and engaging. Won the Senior CLASS Award (awarded to a senior with notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition) and Lott IMPACT Trophy (given to the defensive college football player who exhibits the best Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity).

Work ethic praised up and down by Auburn program. Plays with maximum effort — described as an “urgent” player. Doesn’t wait for others to make a play. Will improve a locker-room dynamic immediately as a rookie.

Downside: Average college production — 33.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and five forced fumbles in 53 games. More of a pressure rusher than a sack producer. Likely never will put up anything close to Aaron Donald numbers.

Relies heavily on his bull rush and snatch moves and could stand to work in some changeup moves (quick swim, club rip, chop club) more frequently. Becomes more predictable in his rush techniques the longer games go on.

Occasionally will be the last man off the snap — has some timing issues and doesn’t always anticipate quickly enough. Also can get a little jumpy — three offsides penalties in his career.

Needs work splitting double teams more effectively. Overly reliant on power and brute force. Can do a better job of “getting skinny” — turning his hips and dropping his shoulder while maintaining gap integrity.

Had some games (see LSU) where he was less effective in the fourth quarter. Might be best served as a 45-50 snap player in the NFL. Lined up everywhere at Auburn but could be more constrained to a nose/shade role for even fronts. Was kept quiet in some head-to-head matchups as a 5-technique against Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr.

Athletic questions were raised with poor combine testing — 40-yard dash (5.16 seconds), 10-yard split (1.78 seconds), vertical jump (27 inches) and broad jump (108 inches) were all considered below average. His 3-cone drill (8.22 seconds) and short shuttle (4.79 seconds) times were both in the bottom 10th percentile among interior defensive linemen.

Measured with unusually small hands (9 inches). Weight has fluctuated at times and will need to be monitored — might need a stricter conditioning and dietary plan to keep him at ideal weight.

Needs to reel it in a bit at times and could be branded early as a “dirty player” by referees (even if he isn’t considered that now) in a league that loves to flag late hits, especially on prized quarterbacks. Was called for five personal fouls and one unsportsmanlike penalty. Also had a few borderline hits on QBs that were let go but could be whistled in the NFL.

Best-suited destination: There shouldn’t be a scheme for which Brown isn’t a fit. He can line up in almost every technique inside of a 5 (outside shoulder of a tackle) across the line on either side and be effective.

The New York Giants’ Dexter Lawrence last year was proof that large interior linemen don’t have to be taken off the field in obvious passing situations. He was a 340-pounder who played more than 700 snaps last season, and two of his four highest-graded games came in which he played 50-plus snaps. It can be done for rare prospects. Brown is such a player.

Among the teams we think could be interested in Brown’s services include the Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Las Vegas Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, plus other teams outside of the range to draft him where they currently sit.

Did you know: Brown was a dominant high school force, as you might imagine, at Lanier (Georgia) High School. He was named U.S. Army All-American Bowl Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, making 106 tackles (42 for losses) and 12 sacks.

But he also was unleashed occasionally on offense, as both a receiving tight end and a “wildcat” QB. Here he is taking the direct snap and driving the ball in for a 4-yard TD run:

Yeah, you're not stopping this, high school players.
Yeah, you're not stopping this, high school players.

They said it: “He's just so disruptive and makes everybody around him better. You gotta know where he is on the field at all times. … Derrick is a combination of [Richard] Seymour and [Marcus] Stroud. He has the athleticism of Seymour and the power of Stroud, and that’s a deadly combination. I remember talking to Bill Belichick one time, and he paid [Seymour] one of the best compliments. He said he could play every position on the defensive line, and that’s what Derrick can do and do it at a high level.”

— Auburn associate head coach/defensive line coach Rodney Garner, to ESPN.com

Player comp: He reminds us so much of Chicago Bears DL Akiem Hicks.

Expected draft range: Top-10 pick.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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