Carolina Panthers: Derrick Brown can turn team’s defense around

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 29: Defensive lineman Derrick Brown of Auburn runs a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 29, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 29: Defensive lineman Derrick Brown of Auburn runs a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 29, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

This past weekend the Carolina Panthers used the seventh-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown.

If you haven’t already heard, the Carolina Panthers made draft history this past weekend when they used all seven picks on seven defensive players, becoming the first team to ever do such a thing. The first of those seven picks was former Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown. A three-year starter with the Tigers, Brown was the consensus top interior defensive lineman in this year’s draft and was one of the highest-rated prospects overall.

At 6’5,” 326 pounds, Brown is a mountain of a man who plays with a surprising dose of athleticism along with raw power. Carolina chose to pass on Clemson do-it-all defender Isaiah Simmons in order to get the star defensive lineman, despite Simmons being the popular pick. Only time will tell if the Panthers made the right decision, but for now they certainly seem to have made a solid selection.

Carolina chose Brown over Simmons in large part to fix the Panthers’ atrocious run defense from 2019.

Despite Simmons being the people’s choice, the Panthers made the right decision when it came to what the team needed. When owner David Tepper hired new head coach Matt Rhule, one of the first things Rhule vowed to do was to bring in the players who best fit what he wants to do. His willingness to select Brown does just that. Rhule and general manager Marty Hurney clearly made defense a priority in the draft, and both men in charge believe a strong defense starts with a strong front four. Carolina is expected to revert to a 4-3 base defense in 2020, and with the departures of Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe this offseason, the team had an even bigger hole along the defensive front.

Perhaps the biggest reason the Panthers chose Brown over Simmons is because of the lineman’s reputation as a run-stuffer. Brown’s combination of size, athleticism, and power make him extremely difficult to block in run situations, and according to new offensive coordinator Joe Brady, he was the toughest defensive player to gameplan against in the entire SEC.

Carolina ranked 29th in rushing yards allowed per game in 2020, so taking the best run defender in the draft certainly makes sense–especially considering that the Panthers’ front struggled to keep blockers off linebackers this past season. Like in college, Brown should consistently command opponents’ attention at the NFL level, which should allow the linebackers the team does have to make plays behind him. The shift back to the 4-3 look along with the return of a healthy Kawann Short should also make for drastic improvements in terms of the team’s run defense.

Despite being raw as a pass rusher, Brown has All-Pro potential according to just about any scouting source.

If there’s one thing Brown can improve on at the next level it’s his ability to rush the passer. Brown tallied just 12.5 sacks during his 46 games at Auburn, a number the Panthers would surely like to see go up in the NFL. While he is underdeveloped in this particular area, he has the potential to grow as a rusher as well. The same size, length, and athleticism that make him so dangerous in the run game are the same tools that should allow for growth on passing downs as well. He’ll be joining a unit that ranked second in quarterback sacks last season, so opponents already have to respect the team’s incumbent rushers, which could free up Brown in pass-rush situations. Add in the fact that Brown often had to deal with double teams at the collegiate level, his “low” sack totals aren’t as concerning.

Regardless of who you ask though, Derrick Brown is as elite a defensive prospect as you will find. He hasn’t yet played a single snap in the NFL but is already regarded as a potential perennial All-Pro in addition to drawing comparisons to guys such as Ndamukong Suh and Kris Jenkins. So before you burn Rhule and co. at the stake for passing on Simmons, give this kid a chance. Brown isn’t a sexy pick, but if the Panthers want to truly rebuild their defense, he’s exactly the guy they needed. Fortunately for them, he also has all the physical tools to be one of the league’s best for a long time to come.