Auburn defensive lineman Derrick Brown has grown into top NFL draft prospect
The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.
What do offensive linemen Drake Dorbeck of Southern Mississippi and Damien Lewis of Louisiana State have in common, other than weighing more than 300 pounds, playing football in the South and generally being known for adept pass blocking?
Well, both play a starring role in Derrick Brown’s highlight reel, which surely will be rolled out in the first 10 picks of the NFL draft when the Auburn senior defensive tackle’s name is likely to be called.
In 2018, Brown was only beginning to ascend draft boards when he pushed Dorbeck off the line of scrimmage and out of the way before lifting his 6-foot-5, 317-pound frame into the air with his arms outstretched and flying into Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham, who went splat.
A season later against LSU, the Brown hype machine was fully operational when he bulldozed Lewis and sent him tumbling into eventual Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow for the rare sack administered without touching the quarterback.
Brown had so many awe-inspiring moments during his college days that it would be hard to pick a favorite. But, at the NFL scouting combine, a reporter pinned down Brown for his personal choice.
Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa are all expected to be first-round picks in the NFL draft. The question is: When will they be off the board?
“I think my junior year, Southern Miss, the Superman tackle, that was pretty cool,” Brown said.
He could have entered the draft as a junior after showing that flash of superhero ability, but Brown heard questions about his consistency. Plus, he had a deeply personal reason to stay one more year at Auburn — the birth of his son, Kai.
“I graduated, and I was able to be with my son the first year of his life,” Brown said. “I’ve got no regrets about that.”
During his senior year, Brown aimed to prove he could bring intensity every down. Teams noticed.
“They just asked, ‘In 2018 you weren’t as consistent as 2019. How do you know we won’t get that guy?’ ” Brown said.
“That guy don’t exist no more,” he said.
“I think it’s more so a maturity thing,” Brown explained. “I’ve got a 1 -year-old. So I gotta do what I gotta do now. It’s not even about myself anymore.
“I had to grow up. A lot of people told me I was selfish in certain ways, and I never really believed it. But then going back, I was more so selfish [with] my time instead of giving it to others. And then now, you can’t really get me away from my son.”
Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb might be the best receiver in the NFL draft, with speed and strength to overwhelm defenders and three years of production in one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.
The extra year set up Brown and his young family well. He is projected to be an immediate contributor with the potential to be a Pro Bowl selection and maybe even a perennial All-Pro.
There are few questions about him now, even as a leader. He won the 2019 Lott IMPACT Trophy, which goes to the defensive player who has the biggest IMPACT (integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity).
“Every time I have interviews, that’s exactly what comes up,” he said. “It’s something I took to heart and tried to do as best I could.”
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