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Derrick Brown makes sense for the Detroit Lions

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Don’t panic if he’s the Lions’ choice on Thursday night.

Auburn v LSU Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Rather than bombard you with the 20th article convincing you Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah is the perfect fit for the Detroit Lions with the third overall pick, I’m here to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment.

No potential third overall pick has caused more potential anger than that of Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown. And I totally get it. There are plenty of reasons to both question Brown as a player and a value pick that high in the draft.

But if we’re being honest with ourselves, Brown is exactly the kind of player you know the Detroit Lions will covet. Will that be enough for them to pull the trigger on Brown with the third overall pick? Well, let’s try to make the case for it right now.

The fit is obvious

At 6-foot-4, 326 pounds, Brown has the size, arm length and strength the Lions want in their interior defenders. He’s a run-stuffing machine that has experience playing anywhere from 0-to-5 tech. He’ll likely be most comfortable in the 3-tech role, but he has plenty of size and experience to play significant snaps at nose, too.

You know how Damon Harrison Sr. was complaining that they had him play too much three tech? Well, Derrick Brown is the perfectly-capable prospect of splitting time between nose and three, and that’s something Matt Patricia has to be drooling over. And rumors have it, he already is.

“But he can’t pass rush”

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

While it’s true Brown only had 12.5 career sacks at Auburn, with no more than 4.5 in a single season, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a productive pass rusher. In the past two seasons, he’s earned PFF pass rush grade of 91.2 (by comparison, Javon Kinlaw graded 91.7) and that was against some pretty stellar competition in the SEC.

He’s been a huge disrupter in the passing game for all four years at Auburn. Batted passes, QB hits, hurries, he’s among the top at his position in all of the nation.

Don’t get it twisted, Brown won’t be an Aaron Donald type of defensive tackle. He will still be much better at stopping the run than he will be at rushing the passer. I don’t even expect him to ever really offer more than four or five sacks a year. But the notion that he’ll be useless on passing downs should be thoroughly ignored.

Let me pull this quote from PFF’s Brett Whitefield on our NFL Draft preview podcast this week:

“If you look at the three most predictive things for pass success translating to the NFL, it’s PFF pass rush grade, weight-adjusted broad jump and weight-adjusted short shuttle. He checked all three of those boxes actually pretty well.”

Which leads me to the next criticism of him...

“He isn’t athletic”

Brown’s draft stock among the media certainly took a hit after his performance at the NFL Combine, which left him with an RAS of just 5.85. Truly concerning was his 3-cone drill time of 8.22, which puts him below the 10th percentile in this draft class:

Brown posted his own version of the 3-cone drill later, which some timed around 7.46. But let’s go ahead and assume his Combine score is accurate.

His athleticism is in the spots where it needs to be. As Whitefield noted, broad jump and short shuttle are most important when projecting to NFL success and Brown had a fantastic broad jump and a solid short shuttle (for his size).

Athletically, Brown compares to two players who have had no trouble building solid NFL careers: Akiem Hicks and Haloti Ngata:

So, no, he isn’t Aaron Donald, but he basically plays an entirely different position than Donald does, and among those players, he’s a perfectly acceptable athlete.

But at 3???

Here’s where the argument gets tougher for me. It’s admittedly very, very hard for me to justify the Lions taking Brown with the third overall pick. Is a defensive tackle short of a game-changer like Donald worth so much draft capital? For a large majority of NFL teams, the answer is an easy no.

But it’s not so easy with the Detroit Lions and their current makeup of the team. Run stuffing is a huge part of this team’s identity. We need to look no further than 2018 to see how much a run-stuffing defensive tackle can alter the dynamic of this entire team. Damon Harrison Sr. completely changed the game for the Lions after Detroit traded for him at the deadline.

Here’s a reminder of the before and after effect of Snacks.

Pre-Snacks:

  • 139.3 rushing yards per game allowed
  • 5.3 YPC allowed
  • 104.1 passer rating allowed
  • 28.2 points per game allowed

Post-Snacks:

  • 92.5 rushing yards per game allowed
  • 3.8 YPC allowed
  • 98.7 passer rating allowed
  • 20.2 points per game allowed

As you can see, one elite player not only helped dramatically improve this team’s run defense, but it had a larger effect on the entire team, resulting (in part) an eight point decline in points per game allowed. Certainly, there were other factors involved here (the Lions played a lot of young, crappy quarterbacks in the back half of the year), but Detroit’s stout run defense deserves credit for putting the game in their hands.

So if the Lions call Brown’s name on Thursday night—be it at three or five or nine—your first reaction shouldn’t be panic. Brown is an immensely talented player and one the Lions will know just what to do with. He immediately makes the Lions significantly better in the trenches, and that’s extremely important after last year’s failures in that unit. It may not be an ideal pick with the third overall selection, but he’s a huge upgrade over what they’ve got.