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2020 Combine: 10 defensive ends/tackles and linebackers to watch on TV

The Browns have needs that the combine should help discover the right prospects

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl - Purdue v Auburn
Derrick Brown
Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Going into training camp in 2019, the defensive line and the linebacker corps were viewed upon as one of the team’s strengths.

Olivier Vernon was a newly-acquired defensive end traded from the New York Football Giants and had a very good pass rushing resume as evidenced by his Pro Bowl nod in 2018. On the other side was the former first-overall selection Myles Garrett who was also named to the 2018 Pro Bowl. So, the defensive end position was supposedly set.

Buffalo Bills v Cleveland Browns
Sheldon Richardson
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

At defensive tackle, the club had acquired Sheldon Richardson, a former first-round pick of the New York Jets at one slot, and then the dependable Larry Ogunjobi to man the other interior line position.

This lineup initially drew high praise especially due to the fact that their backups were Chad Thomas, Chris Smith, and the emergence of Devaroe Lawrence who was deemed as unblockable.

But out of all the position groups, the defensive line suffered the most. Garrett was suspended six games, Smith was cut, a one-game suspension was handed down to Ogunjobi, Lawrence played 44% of snaps yet was waived in late November, and a bunch of practice squads guys such as Porter Gustin were suddenly playing quite a bit. In addition, Vernon was hurt for most of the year and could be a salary cap casualty going forward.

The linebackers went through some transition as well. Instead of the usual 4-3 defensive setup, former DC Steve Wilks employed a 4-2-5 lineup. This eliminated one linebacker on most downs. Joe Schobert, normally the guy responsible for the middle, was now more a gap linebacker who moved as the play unfolded. Christian Kirksey, normally the Will backer, was in this middle-ish formation next to Schobert.

And then Kirksey, after being named captain and started just two games, sustained a chest injury that required surgery to a torn pectoral muscle which landed him on season-ending IR. This forced rookie Mack Wilson into the starting lineup and played well. Other linebackers were used sparingly along the way such as fellow rookie Sione Takitaki, veteran Adarius Taylor, Tae Davis and former practice squad player Willie Harvey. Taylor had inked a two-year deal and the belief was he would provide a starter’s mentality and depth but instead played a mere 54 defensive snaps.

Taylor was cut recently which will save the Browns nearly $2.5 million against the salary cap. Harvey played mainly on special teams before landing on IR with a shoulder injury in October. And Schobert, as most Browns’ fans know, is set to go into free agency if a deal isn’t secured by March 16.

If you missed DBN’s analysis of drafting a linebacker this year, click this link:

https://www.dawgsbynature.com/2020/2/14/21137202/browns-will-need-to-draft-a-linebacker-this-year

The bottom line is, both of these units are a blistering mess. The good news is there are lots of talented players in this year’s NFL college draft ready to step in and become a valued member of the 2020 Cleveland Browns’ defense.

The 2020 combine is in full swing. Televised coverage of the defensive line and linebackers is Saturday from 4-11 p.m. (eastern) on NFL Network.

Here are 10 defensive ends/tackles and llinebackers to watch.

First-round pick #10

ACC Championship - Clemson v Pittsburgh
Isaiah Simmons
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

LB Isaiah Simmons - Clemson: 6’, 4” 230 pounds

Projected round: 1

There is zero not to like about this kid. Linebacker, safety, slot, box, coverage on the tight end, run support – you name it he can deliver. Is an every down player and plays sideline-to-sideline. Effort is off the charts with great lateral pursuit. Hits like a linebacker but is smooth reminiscence of a cornerback. His versatility is a plus and a sure tackler – something that may be new to Cleveland. Butkus Award winner, First Team All-ACC, Unanimous First Team All-American, ACC Defensive Player-fo-the-Year are the awards he garnered his final year at Clemson. If he is still on the board at number 10 in the first-round - which is highly unlikely but possible - the Browns should sprint to the podium.

DT Derrick Brown Auburn: 6’, 5” 318 pounds

Projected round: 1

If you like Aaron Donald, this is a hybrid. Played in a tough conference and saw lots of quality offensive linemen and still shined. Every NFL club is looking for talented interior pass rushers, and Browns fits that bill and more. Extremely difficult to block and is an excellent run stopper. Beats blocks with several moves frequently with strong upper body. Natural 3-technique DT with power and the ability to bull rush. His final college season was full of accolades: First Team All-SEC, Lott IMPACT Trophy (best defensive impact player), SEC Defensive Player-of-the-Year, and Unanimous All-American. Brown would completely change the landscape of the defense.

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU
K’Lavon Chaisson
Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson - LSU: 6’, 4” 250 pounds

Projected round: 1

Is a problem for any offensive tackle he lines up on. One word: explosive. First Team All-SEC and National Champion. Very competitive nature with a non-stop motor. Does not quit on plays and can be seen chasing down runners. Is a beast in the running game defense. Coming off the edge with speed and knows how to use his leverage. His speed and quickness - especially that first step - are his best friends. Good second effort production and is a sure tackler with some vicious hits. Can be a dominating threat off the edge and is considered a speed rusher. There is no ceiling for this man’s game – just plug him in and tell him to get the cat. Woof.

Second-round pick #41

DT Raekwon Davis – Alabama: 6’, 7” 306 pounds

Round projection: 2

Was shot in the right leg in 2017 and a week later played in Alabama’s season opener, so his determination and grit are present. Plays big in big games. Huge wing span. Well-balanced for stopping the run and is a serious pass rusher. Decent speed, good hand combat and has excellent upper body strength. Able to fend off blockers and can be impossible to move out of his gap. Davis will become nothing but an impact player in the NFL and is a huge man. Had a tremendous senior season capped off by being named Second Team All-SEC (2019).

South Carolina v Texas A&M
Justin Madubuike #52
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

DT Justin Madubuike – Texas A&M: 6’, 3” 304 pounds

Round projection: 2

Very tough player and strong with a low-to-the-ground stance. Is very good on single contact, but disappears with double-team blocks. Is a hard tackler, will wrap up nicely and prefers to be vicious on his hits. First step is quick. Second Team All-SEC (2019). Excellent run stopper and can get into the backfield at times and cause issues. Probably a 3-technique player at the next level with gap penetration. Has an issue going all out on every down. Has excellent change of direction abilities, but is slow to follow players as the play unfolds upfield.

DT Ross Blacklock – 6’, 4” 305 pounds

Round projection: 2

An elite athlete, he is a former high school basketball player whose father played for the Harlem Globetrotters. Very good power with size. A bit slow in reading blocks. From a snap standpoint is explosive with quickness. Has uncanny leverage and can go toe-to-toe with bigger offensive linemen. Disruptive. This is a guy you can build a defense around and has every tool in the toolbox. Can defend multiple gaps and plays with a mean temperament. Had some injury issues in the past after being selected Freshman All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Freshman-of-the-Year in 2017. He may not have known how many parking tickets he accumulated while at TCU (it was 37), but last year Blacklock was the stud on defense as evidenced by being named First Team All-Big 12.

Third-round picks #74 and #90

EDGE Joshua Uche – Michigan: 6’, 1” 241 pounds

Round projection: 3

Very quick with a fast first step coming off the edge. Needs more girth before he ends up in training camp, but is a problem for larger offensive tackles. Is an excellent pass rusher, but will need some help getting involved in stopping the rushing attack. Will take advantage and embarrass tackles. Does not disengage well on blocks and is an adequate tackler. Has a very good variety of moves while in pass rusher mode and is a hard-charger. If he can bulk up and be shown some run-stopping techniques, he will become a league favorite.

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual - Washington v Ohio State
Malik Harrison
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ILB Malik Harrison – Ohio State: 6’, 3” 245 pounds

Round projection: 3

First-Team All Big 10 in 2019, so he has seen good competition in a tough conference. Not the best in coverage, so will need lots of coaching in this respect. Heavy-riser since his success at the Senior Bowl. Intelligent player with good instincts to the ball. Quick with very good speed. Very true, exceptional tackler and would fit better at the Mike position where he is not expected to drop back in coverage the majority of his snaps. A very physical player and an every down linebacker. Instinctive and good range while trailing the play. Excellent blitzer.

DT Marlon Davidson – Auburn: 6’, 3” 297 pounds

Round projection: 3

Another load of a man. Second Team All-SEC his senior season. Strong as an inside rusher and has the versatility to play the end. A fighter and a good pass rusher, but not a bull rusher. Can be moved out of the play though, and will need to bulk up a bit. Does not possess quickness and can be a tad slow on recognizing passing downs. Solid upper body and can take a blow. A high energy guy with more success inside. Not an outside speed rusher, but his penetration skills are his best attribute.

Fourth-round pick #105

Appalachian State v South Carolina
Akeem Davis-Gaither
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OLB Akeem Davis-Gaither – Appalachian State: 6’, 1” 215 pounds

Round projection: 4

Was the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player-of-the-Year his senior year and was named First-Team All Sun Belt Conference. Is very quick and an every down backer. May need to add some weight, but was the darling coming out of the Senior Bowl. Will instantly play the weakside linebacker position and is very aggressive. His best attributes are his ability to drop back into coverage. Will dominate tight ends. Runs a 4.58, so chasing the play is not an issue. A hustler who is a very good tackler and defender against the run.