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Why Derrick Brown was worth the No. 7 pick for the Carolina Panthers

Retired defensive end Stephen White thinks Derrick Brown is the most exciting interior pass rusher since Aaron Donald.

An illustration of NFL DT prospect Derrick Brown fighting off a blocker at Auburn, superimposed on a black and white background with “SCOUTING” and “X”s and “O”s in aqua lettering
Derrick Brown could be a top-five pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Carolina Panthers selected Derrick Brown with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about Brown ahead of the draft.

I’ve seen ridiculously strong defensive tackles and I’ve seen ridiculously athletic defensive tackles. But it is rare to see both in one guy, especially one Derrick Brown’s size, at a shade under 6’5 and 326 pounds.

Y’all already know I’m a sucker for a dude who goes hard all the time anyway, but Brown is a hustler’s hustler. He doesn’t run hard to the ball “for a big guy.” He runs hard to the ball, period!

Wherever he is going on the field, he’s always trying to get there in a hurry. It’s a damn near inspiration to an old-school defensive lineman like myself. Brown busts his ass play in and play out, and out of all the impressive things I saw from him on tape, that was what jumped off the screen the most.

He plays the game with the kind of effort that is sure to be contagious in the NFL. You won’t want to be the one getting called out for getting smoked by the big fella. Then again, with as fast as I saw Brown run a few times, maybe they wouldn’t have anything to be embarrassed about.

Even when it doesn’t look like he will have a chance to get in on a tackle, Brown still turns and runs to the ball. He is truly relentless and that’s reflected in his on-field production. There’s a reason why I credited him with 28 tackles, including three tackles for a loss, in the four games of his I watched. You don’t make that many plays by just standing around and waiting for the ball to come to you. You make that many plays by going out and making shit happen.

What Brown does well: He’s got power

Brown’s physical gifts are not limited to his uncommon speed for a man his size. His excellent technique also helped Brown get in position to make a lot of plays at Auburn.

Did I mention that he’s also as strong as a damn ox and can ragdoll men much bigger than him? Because honestly? The way Brown was tossing 300-pound guys around like they were a mere nuisance was probably what had me cussing the most when watching his film. And believe me, my swear jar is overflowing at this point.

And I want to remind everybody that these weren’t Arkansas School Of Underwater Basketweaving offensive linemen he was dominating like that. Brown was able to overpower a bunch of Power 5 offensive linemen like it was nothing.

Of the four teams, I’d say Alabama’s offensive line probably gave him the biggest challenge when it came to physicality. He did get pushed around a few times, but by the end of the game, he had put his stamp on it. He even ended Alabama’s last-gasp attempt at a comeback by knocking a pass down at the line of scrimmage after once again winning a one-on-one matchup.

To top it off, he plays with a pretty salty attitude.

Nothing dirty, but I did see Brown giving a few offensive linemen the business right up to the whistle several times, even when he might’ve been better off trying to get to the ball. In that Oregon game to start off the season, he played like some of the offensive linemen owed him money.

You need guys on defense who straddle the line like that, and that’s another reason why I feel like teams will covet him not only for his talent, but also for his leadership.

What Brown does well: Defend the run

In general as a run defender, Brown is so big and strong that it almost didn’t matter who he was going against. Brown usually rendered blockers irrelevant by jacking them up and then locating the football while keeping the would-be blocker at arm’s length. Then once he found the ball, Brown would simply discard the blocker quickly and, usually, violently.

When Brown was singled up, the only question was whether the ball carrier would run on a path close enough for Brown to tackle him at or behind the line of scrimmage, or if Brown would have to run to get to him.

Hell, that even applied when he was fighting double-teams sometimes.

Brown would be chilling with a blocker hanging off of him, just waiting for the right time to pounce on the ball carrier. And once you see it, you can’t un-see it. It was just really shocking to see a college player who was that much better than the dudes he was facing.

Speaking of double-teams, they didn’t much slow Brown down, either. He would focus on one of the two blockers, shoot his hands into their chest, and really hunker down with his shoulders turned to prevent the second blocker from having much of a surface to hit. Then, whenever the second blocker came off, say, to try to block a linebacker, Brown would spring into action.

Of course, sometimes he said to hell with it and just blew up everything in the backfield.

You look at all of the athletic traits that Brown displayed on tape, add in his power, versatility, and football IQ to go along with his motor? It doesn’t get much better than him as a defensive line prospect. It really doesn’t.

What he does well: Pass rush (and he’s got some moves!)

Here’s the rub: he might be an even better pass rusher than he is a run defender.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve been this excited about an interior pass rush prospect not named Aaron Donald. And I say “interior” pass rusher, but I also saw Brown win one-on-one matchups on offensive tackles as well.

No cap.

That big joker got busy no matter where Auburn lined him up on passing downs. The main attraction in his pass-rushing arsenal was a heavy helping of power rushes. He was also damn good at them. In particular, he showed the ability to consistently get push on either guard upfield; then, at about the level of the quarterback, he would rip right through their outside shoulder like a hot knife through butter.

Brown also has some nice inside counter moves off those power rushes to keep opposing offensive linemen honest. The fastest route to the quarterback is always going to be a straight line, and Brown is well equipped to be a pocket collapser in the league from day one.

It would be mistake to assume he is just a bull rush guy, however.

A huge mistake.

While Brown will make most of his hay with his power, his finesse moves were just about equally impressive. One thing I love about Brown as a pass rusher is that he has good hip turn as he runs, no matter what kind of move he is going for. That helps him to turn a tight corner when he tries an outside rush, and it helps him fight force with force when he is trying to work through the blocker.

It isn’t normal to see a guy Brown’s size as a pass rusher, but he looked like very polished in the games that I watched.

And let me say this is where statistics can be very misleading if you don’t watch the tape. Brown “only” had one sack in those four games, but for one reason or another, he still wasn’t credited with a sack or a pressure on certain plays. On one, he used one of the best inside spin moves I’ve ever seen any interior defensive lineman execute since I’ve been doing these breakdowns.

Brown beat the Alabama right guard so quickly and thoroughly with that spin move that the center didn’t even have time to help. And what did Brown get in return for making such a magnificent move? Alabama’s backup quarterback threw a touchdown as Brown was bearing down on him.

Yeah ...

I would bet none of those Alabama offensive linemen are sorry to see Brown leaving, that’s for sure.

Where Brown can improve: Staying upright more often

As for concerns, Brown was on the ground a little too much for my liking. Most of the time he was either a little too overextended when trying to shove an offensive lineman backward, or he was simply playing with pad level that was too high. I know it’s not easy for 6’5 cats to stay low for a whole game, but bending his knees more consistently would probably help Brown stay upright a little more.

My gripe is probably nitpicking somewhat. It would help if he played a little lower, but he is still going to make plays regardless. He’s just that good.

Brown’s NFL future: Defensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner

I totally understand why a lot of people are high on Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young. I am too, for that matter. But if I were picking at the top of this draft, it might be a coin flip between him and Derrick Brown. I don’t really think you can go wrong with either guy, but I see more intangibles in ways that won’t necessarily show up on a stat sheet from Brown than I do from Young. And that’s not a knock on Young as much as it is giving Brown his well-deserved props.

As obviously talented as Donald was when he came out, he didn’t have the same kind of motor as I saw from Brown, and still doesn’t for that matter. No, Brown isn’t the same class of athlete as Donald, but he can have a similar kind of impact on games, just with a different approach.

I thought Brown tested out fine at the combine, and I was really impressed that he was able to get 28 reps of 225 pounds with arms that stretch out more than 34 inches in length. That will help with some power rushes. His 5.16 in the 40 is more than respectable for a man his size, but I have to tell you he moves faster than that on the field. More importantly, you will rarely see someone 320+ pounds running 10 yards down the field, let alone 40.

However, the bonus you get with Brown is he does hustle downfield consistently, so you are going to get every bit of that 40 time every play. I would imagine nobody wants to be on the receiving end after he has built up a full head of steam.

I have only watched a total of three players for this year’s draft at this point, but it’s hard for me to believe Brown will get drafted any later than the top five because he looks like a guy who would go top five in any draft. Barring injury, I think we will see greatness from Brown sooner than later after he makes the transition to the NFL. I’d bet him against the field for Defensive Rookie of the Year, right now, today. That’s just how much potential I see in him as a prospect.

We will see if the teams at the top of the draft agree come the end of April.

Be sure to check out my other scouting reports on Chase Young and Jerry Jeudy.

For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched Brown play against Oregon, Florida, Alabama, and Minnesota (Outback Bowl).