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5 things we learned at Scouting Combine - Day 3

YOUNG-SIMMONS-EPENESA

INDIANAPOLIS – It's hard for the media to agree on where to eat each night of the Scouting Combine, but it's not difficult to find a consensus on the best prospect in the draft. That, of course, is Ohio State defensive end Chase Young.

However, this week is all about confirming or denying the big boards. The rest of the 300-plus players are trying to do the latter.

Here are five things we learned from the defensive ends and linebackers on Day 3 of the combine:

1) Young "definitely" agrees he's the best player, won't waste his time trying to be a "combine athlete."

The 6-foot-5, 264-pound Young led the nation with 16.5 sacks, a total that broke the school record. While LSU quarterback Joe Burrow ultimately won the Heisman Trophy, Young became just the ninth defensive finalist since 1982. Young still won the Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which both recognize the nation's outstanding defensive player. Young came into this week as the No. 1 overall prospect, according to NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.

"I definitely think I'm the best player in the draft," Young said. "I think I showed it on my tape. You can go to every game. I think I showed it. I definitely think I'll put my best foot forward this year. I grinded hard. Two of my biggest things are my hard work and dedication, and I'm going to bring those two to the NFL with me."

Young has decided not to compete in drills at the combine. He will do position work at his pro day, but he will not run in things like the 40-yard dash.

"I chose -- me and my team -- we decided that because that first day of [NFL] camp when I step on the field, I want to be the best player I can be," Young said. "I don't want to waste time trying to be a combine athlete. When I step on the field, I know I need to know that I put my best foot forward as far as being the best player I can be."

2) Simmons is tough to label.

Every article of clothing that prospects wear at the Scouting Combine is screen-printed with their position. This week, Isaiah Simmons dons "LB" on his chest as he traverses the miles of indoor walkways at the Indianapolis Convention Center, bouncing from checkpoint to checkpoint on a jam-packed schedule.

But what should it really say? "DEFENSE," Simmons said.

There you have it. His position is DEFENSE.

According to Pro Football Focus, Simmons, who measured 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds at the combine, played more than 100 snaps at five different positons for Clemson in 2019. He lined up 299 times at inside linebacker, 262 at slot cornerback, 132 at free safety, 116 at outside linebacker, and 100 at strong safety.

"I think it's really beneficial for me," Simmons said. "I know years ago it wasn't good to be a positionless guy. But now it's become a benefit for me just because of all the versatility I'll be able to do, play linebacker, play safety, whatever it is, I feel like it just helps me out."

Simmons added, "I like an interception just as much as I like getting a sack. I don't really think I have a favorite."

His game also includes the ability to cover tight ends, a necessity in the modern game.

"If you know who George Kittle and Travis Kelce are, then that explains it all," Simmons said. "Stopping tight ends and linebackers playing man on running backs is -- the game's no longer a 250-pound linebacker. It's more guys that are able to run side to side and are able to cover. It's just a necessity now with the tight ends and running backs."

3) Iowa DE AJ Epenesa wants to prove he belongs at the top.

Before Young led everyone in 2019, Epenesa had the most sacks in the Big Ten in 2018. That's not to say he was a slouch in his final season. Epenesa recorded 11.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, with four forced fumbles last year and was named the Holiday Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player. Seven of those sacks came in the final four games.

"I was transitioning learning how to take on those double teams and chips, and as the season went on, you can tell I started getting better at it and started being able to be more productive," he said. "And it just came from me learning how to counteract those kinds of blocks."

Epenesa is currently NFL.com's second-ranked edge defender.

"I don't know how the numbers are looking exactly compared to everybody else, but I think teams should take me because I bring a lot of passion and a lot of energy to the game," he said. "I feel like I can be a momentum changer no matter what time of the game it is, whether it's trying to get a strip sack and get the ball back to the offense or helping the defense score itself. I feel like I bring a certain kind of energy that brings confidence that the offense or defense is going to pull through."

His father, Eppy Epenesa, also played football at Iowa.

"I grew up as just another Polynesian kid who adored the big Polynesian players like Junior Seau and Troy Polamalu," the younger Epenesa said. "And it's just kind of something that showed the Polynesian kids around the country, no matter where you're from, can make it to the NFL and be like that as well."

Check out the best photos from behind the scenes at the NFL Combine.

4) The Giants don't need DT Derrick Brown…or do they?

Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, not LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, is the second-ranked prospect behind Young in Jeremiah's pre-combine rankings. General manager Dave Gettleman's affection for drafting the position is well-documented, but could the team be in the market for another one at No. 4? If they are, the 6-foot-5, 326-pound Brown is the man.

He won the 2019 Lott IMPACT (Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity) Trophy and also picked up first-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-SEC honors. He was a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy after recording 12.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and four pass breakups. He did so while playing up and down the line.

"Being coached in the system, we didn't really have (set) positions," he said. "We played all the way from the zero to the five, and coach mentioned we had to be versatile at every position."

Earlier this week, Gettleman again preached the impact of interior linemen, both offensively and defensively.

"One of the things you have to do is you have to match up in your division," he said. "All three teams in our division, the Eagles, the Cowboys and the Redskins, all have inside power on their defensive line. You have to match power with power. If the inside leakage occurs to quickly, now he's running around for his life."

5) Versatile LB Zack Baun relishes chance to reunite with Ryan Connelly on Giants.

Ryan Connelly was on his way to being the steal of the draft for the Giants in 2019. The fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin recorded 20 tackles, two interceptions and a sack in the first four games of his rookie year, but then it abruptly ended due to a torn ACL. Zack Baun, his former Badger teammate in the linebacker room, is the 44th-ranked prospect according to NFL.com.

"Yeah, that would be awesome [to play with Connelly again]," he said. "Shoutout to Ryan for just getting engaged. But anytime I get to link with a former teammate, a former Badger, would be a true honor for me and I think it would really give me a step up because there's a true brotherhood and mentorship at Wisconsin that are unlike any other places. So to reunite with them would be great."

While he would be excited to play with Connelly again, Baun's game is modeled more like Cleveland's versatile Pro Bowler Joe Schobert, another Wisconsin product. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound Baun said one of the teams this week referred to him as "The Toy" – a do-it-all linebacker.

"I was recruited all over the place, didn't have any offers besides South Dakota State and Wisconsin," Baun said. "I committed to Wisconsin as a gray shirt with coach Gary Anderson. Then my year coming out it was actually the year the coaching change happened with coach Paul Chryst coming in. He upgraded my gray shirt to a full ride offer. Kind of showed me what Joe Schobert did. He was the example. So I'm like, 'This dude is covering, rushing the passer and doing everything? Yeah, I want to do that.'"

Baun was also ranked the No. 23 quarterback by ESPN coming out of Brown Deer High School in Wisconsin.

"I think 'quarterback' for me is a very broad term because I didn't do much passing the ball in high school. I ran the ball a lot," he said. "With that being said, we were in a spread offense and did a lot of zone reads, so playing on the edge in college taught me to be patient. In high school they were just crashing down and giving the quarterback the option, so just being patient. It helped with my athleticism as well."

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