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INDIANAPOLIS — You know something that keeps offensive coordinators up at night? Interior defensive linemen who wreak havoc up the middle in the trenches.
This year's NFL Draft class has some potential game-wreckers who fit that billing, but perhaps none are better than Auburn's Derrick Brown.
Over the last two seasons, the senior has been named an unanimous All-American, First-Team All-SEC and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 as well as Second-Team All-SEC in 2018.
Brown was a three-year starter and appeared in 53 games for the Tigers, including bowl games to punctuate each of his four seasons. In that time, he had 170 tackles (33.5 for loss), 13.0 sacks, five forced fumbles, four fumbles recovered, eight pass breakups and one blocked kick.
At 6-4, 318 pounds, Brown has both the size and athleticism to be able to play in several spots along three or four-man defensive fronts. Auburn took advantage of that, moving him around their formation to capitalize on different matchups.
Brown starts with a good first step and shows a powerful burst off of the snap. When he makes contact, he displays both excellent upper body strength and drive with his lower body. It often results in him bending or driving the blocker backward, giving Brown more space to penetrate the offense's backfield.
In the run game, he tracks the ball carrier by keeping his arms extended against the blocker's chest while driving his legs, making him available to fall off the block and collapse in on the runner as they pass by.
Brown has continued developing some moves to help him get by blockers (including a spin move), but often can slip a block by jerking the blocker to the side so he can get to the oncoming ball carrier. He also has quick hand movement to quickly slap away a block attempt and slip past into the backfield.
Although he's well over 300 pounds, Brown has good open-field speed and can track the ball down beyond the line of scrimmage. Quarterbacks aren't safe just because they've escaped the pocket.
And while big fellas like Brown have plenty of reason to get tired playing in the trenches, he plays to the whistle and will team up on piles that are already taking place to ensure the play is dead. Overall, Brown is a high-motor player, even though he gets double and triple-teamed on a regular basis. Still, he has a very strong base and does not get pushed around in the run game, even when multi-teamed.
If the best ability is availability, then Brown checks that box as well, as he never missed a start in four years.
While Brown showed improvement in his setup moves, he'll need to develop more as he both enters engagement with blockers as well as getting off of blocks.
There aren't many holes to poke in Brown's game, but you sometimes see his momentum used against him when he gets low and the offensive lineman tosses him to the ground.
FIT WITH THE COLTS
"The three-technique drives this thing."
In terms of a fit for Brown in the Colts' defense, general manager Chris Ballard said it best, as the team would love to have a dominant force at their three-technique defensive tackle spot.
At its best, the Colts' current defense under coordinator Matt Eberflus is often said to be modeled after recent successes like the early-2000s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and mid-2000s Chicago Bears. Some of the most critical positions in this type of defense are the weak inside linebacker (WILL), the roaming inside/outside cornerback and like Ballard said, the three-technique defensive tackle.
The Colts are getting some big results out of their WILL and cornerback spots in Darius Leonard and Kenny Moore II, respectively, but they could really use a strong force up front at defensive tackle. Perhaps that's where Brown comes into play.
While there were definitely periods of solid play and the box score will never tell the whole story, the Colts got just 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss out of the three-tech position in 2019. They also dealt with some nagging injury issues to tackle Tyquan Lewis, whom they were hopeful would be able to take a big leap in his second season.
Brown has shown dominance on the field, but both on and off of it, his credentials certainly look like those of a player that would be welcomed in the Colts' locker room with open arms.
He was a team captain for Auburn in 2019, but he was also recognized for several other off-field accomplishments throughout his time there.
Brown was a member of the SEC Student-Athlete Leadership Council for football. In 2019, he was named the Auburn Student Athlete Advisory Committee president, and he was also named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll multiple times, as well as the Academic Top Tiger.
He also earned a couple of off-field national awards, earning the Lott IMPACT Trophy in 2019 (Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community, and Tenacity), and was named the Senior CLASS Award winner, the latter of which is awarded to an NCAA Division I senior student-athlete with notable achievements in the classroom, community, character and competition.
For a team like the Colts that values integrity, accountability and leadership at a premium level, Brown screams "Colt!"
One big hangup in a potential Colts-Brown marriage is his draft stock. Brown is considered a top-10 pick in April. However, we have seen top defensive tackle prospects slip modestly in the draft before. Plus, this draft class offers several intriguing quarterback prospects, which could shove non-quarterbacks down the draft board near the Colts at pick No. 13.
If they are looking to upgrade the position this offseason — and they're never going to turn down an opportunity to add a player who can contribute if they can help it — then there's a compelling argument that Brown could be the Colts' selection when they're on the clock in the first round.