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2020 NFL Scouting Combine Preview: Defensive Linemen

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The 2020 NFL Scouting Combine begins next week. As I have for the past decade-plus, I will travel to Indianapolis, Ind., for the festivities.

This is the biggest job interview these players will ever have in their lifetime. It’s a rigorous process where they work out for teams, get interviewed by almost every franchise and they undergo medical checks by interested teams.

The Combine is often called the “Underwear Olympics” by some in the media; many poke fun at the process. That’s a foolish outlook from the more ignorant minds.

While it’s not a huge part of a player’s grade – I say roughly one percent – the Combine does reveal a lot about a player coming into the league. Scouts and general managers can see how players respond to workouts, how they’ve prepared for this process, and how intelligent they are during interviews and work on the whiteboard. Film is the largest part of a player’s grade, but the Combine is not to be overlooked.

Here is my 2020 Combine preview for defensive linemen.

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Top Two Players in the Draft

The best player in the 2020 NFL Draft is Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. While quarterbacks like Joe Burrow (LSU) or Justin Herbert (Oregon) might get more hype, the truth of the matter is that Young is by far superior. In fact, the second-best player in this draft is also on the defensive line but more on him in a bit.

Young has often been compared to Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller, but that’s not an accurate comparison in my opinion. Instead, I see a dash of Miller and a dash of Khalil Mack. That’s a dangerous combination of skills and should make Young an instant impact player in the pros. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein (one of the best draft analysts out there) compares Young to former Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers.

NFL teams are looking for size and tenacity on the edge, and that’s what Young brings to the football field. Young is quick off the line of scrimmage and he has the power to bull-rush blockers as a change-up. In fact, Young does not have a vast array of pass-rushing moves and that’s scary. Just imagine what he can be with his physical skill set combined with NFL coaching that teaches him multiple moves to get after the passer. Young could be an All-Pro player for whatever team drafts him and it may not take long for him to reach that level.

The other top prospect in this draft is Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown. He’s capable of taking on two blockers to free up the linebackers behind him, but what makes Brown special is his ability to create interior pressure on a consistent basis. Brown has the ability to stand his ground and stuff the run, eating up multiple blockers when tasked with doing that job. When asked to penetrate, Brown uses his quickness and strong punch to get through the line to harass a quarterback. He’s a rare talent who would be in line for the No. 1 pick had it not been for guys like Young or Burrow.

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Other Top Options

The first round isn’t just about Young and Brown – both likely to be top-10 picks (maybe top five) in the draft – there are other first-round prospects that get scouts incredibly excited.

Javon Kinlaw from South Carolina was a player who I saw dominate down at the Senior Bowl earlier this year. He was already seen as a top-15 pick in this draft and didn’t really need to participate in Mobile, but he loves football and thrives on competition. Kinlaw does a good job of winning at the point of attack. He gets off the ball quickly and gets into his blockers with a forceful push that many can’t stand. In fact, there are sometimes when Kinlaw looks un-blockable on the football field.

A.J. Epenesa from Iowa is a player scouts are excited about. He has good length and strength for the defensive end position and does a good job of using multiple moves to get after the passer. He is strong enough to keep contain on the outside, and Epenesa uses his power to rip blockers out of his way. He also has a spin move that he can use effectively on unsuspecting offensive tackles. Epenesa is more athletic than a man his size should be and can be an impact player from day one in the pros.

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Top Heavy

Things dry up quickly on the defensive line in this draft class. However, there are some players I’d like to highlight who aren’t going to be first-round picks but could still have productive careers in the NFL. I can’t list all the players here, but I’ve picked a few of my favorites for this section.

Leki Fotu from Utah is a true nose tackle. He’s massive at 335 pounds and can eat up blockers in the middle with ease. Fotu is a two-down run-stuffer who does not let ball-carriers get out of his grasp. When the play goes away from him, Fotu is athletic enough to follow the play down the line and can make a tackle in backside pursuit. His draft stock will be limited by his inability to get after the quarterback.

Raequan Williams out of Michigan State is one of the most-versatile players on the defensive line. He can play in odd or even fronts and a pro team could move him all across the line if they wanted as he can play multiple positions up front. Williams can maneuver on the inside to get after the quarterback. He’s best suited when knifing through the offensive line rather than taking on blockers head on. Williams uses his hands well, but his leverage is thrown off by offensive linemen with a lower center of gravity. Some team will take a chance on him late in the draft due to his versatility then try to coach him up when it comes to disengaging from blockers.

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