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Combine Takeaways Pt. II: Defense defined by depth

The NFL Combine in Indianapolis is in the books.

Here are some of my observations from the drills, media availability and what our 25 guests said during eight hours of Big Blue Kickoff Live from Tuesday to Friday last week. Here, I look at the defense position by position.

Edge Rushers

The presumptive top non-quarterback in the draft class, Ohio State's Chase Young, chose not to participate in any of the drills. He did measure at 6-5 and 264 pounds. One of the reasons he gave for not participating, according to NFL Network, is he did not want to alter his training to get ready for the Combine. Instead, he will focus on getting ready to play football, which is a very different type of training than trying to maximize Combine results.

Another first round caliber edge rusher, K'Lavon Chaisson, did not participate in any of the timed events or field drills. He does not lack for confidence and declared himself the "most valuable" player at the Combine when he addressed the media. Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos did not run the 40 but posted the sixth-best broad jump amongst defensive linemen and the fourth-best vertical jump.

A.J. Epenesa, considered by some to be the second best edge rusher in the draft, was better in field drills than in testing. He looked very smooth in all the on-field drills. He only ran 5.04 in the 40 with a commensurate 10-yard split. He is more of a power rusher, and his results in the jumping drills should reinforce those skills.

Alex Highsmith from UNC-Charlotte had a great day. He had the fourth-best 40 at 4.70, the fourth-best 3-cone drill at 7.32, the sixth-best vertical jump at 33.5 inches, and the third-best broad jump at 125 inches. He weighed in at 6-3 and 248 pounds and checked the boxes you want athletically in an edge rusher.

Florida's Jonathan Greenard had the second-best 3-cone time at 7.13 seconds, which might make scouts look past some of his other scores that fell in the middle of the pack. Syracuse's Alton Robinson posted great results, with top five measurements in the 40, the 3-cone drill and the vertical jump. Those types of results at 6-3 and 264 pounds will draw eyeballs.

Defensive Tackles

The defensive tackles at the combine notched some impressive numbers.

Derrick Brown, considered to be the top tackle in the draft, posted 28 reps on the bench, seventh-most among defensive linemen. His other speed and agility numbers were near the bottom of the position group, but it remains to be seen how those testing times will have an impact on where he is selected.

Javon Kinlaw, considered the second-best defensive tackle, did not do anything at the Combine. When he addressed the media, he spoke about the adversity he had to overcome growing up homeless, and it's clear that playing in the NFL won't be too much for him to handle.

The Nebraska twins, Carlos and Khalil Davis, both had excellent days with top ten 40 times as they outran several defensive ends. Neville Gallimore ran an excellent 40 time for a defensive tackle at 4.79, but was near the bottom of the group in the 3-cone and short shuttle agility drills. Justin Madabuike from Texas A&M ran an impressive 4.83 in the 40.

Auburn 3-technique/defensive end Marlon Davidson did not do any athletic events except the bench press (21) and 40-yard dash (5.04), but he was fun to listen to at the podium. He talked about how much he loves the violent aspects of football and said he admired defensive end Cameron Jordan, who he described as "vicious". That attitude will certainly appeal to NFL front offices.

Linebackers

The world of the new-age, smaller, quicker and fast linebacker is officially here. The 230-240 pound linebackers who look more like safeties from the late 90's are now the norm. Led by Isaiah Simmons' ridiculous 4.39, 10 linebackers ran sub-4.6 in the 40.

Simmons, unfortunately, appeared to injure his hamstring on his 40, which cut his day short. Before his injury, Simmons had the fourth-highest vertical jump (39 inches) and second-best broad jump (132 inches). He did not run the short shuttle or 3-cone drill. He impressed at the podium and said his best role is the one he played in college: playing everywhere (linebacker, pass rusher, box safety, deep safety, slot cornerback). According to NFL Network, he said if he could pick one role, it would be weakside linebacker.

Watching Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray at the podium was a revelation. His father, a pastor, and his mother, a retired police officer, adopted three special needs children he grew up with and helped raise. He also helped resuscitate a woman he found unconscious on the sidewalk using CPR. After reviving the woman, he left the scene, hoping he wouldn't be recognized. His leadership qualities appear to be off the charts.

Murray weighed in at 6-2 and 241 pounds, had the sixth-best 40 time (4.52 seconds), sixth-best vertical jump (38 inches), the third-best broad jump (129 inches) and was tied for the fifth-most reps on the bench press (21). Like Simmons, Murray pulled up on his second run of the 40-yard dash with an apparent hamstring injury. Based on the analysts we spoke to, he is very unlikely to make it out of the first round.

Patrick Queen, another potential first rounder, ran the fourth-best 40 time of the group at 4.50. He had the 11th-best vertical jump and eighth-best broad jump. Like Murray and Simmons, he pulled up on his second 40-yard dash.

Wisconsin linebacker Zach Braun put up a solid 4.65 in the 40, and his 7.0 3-cone time was fifth-best in the class. His jumping numbers were in the middle of the group. Braun was used primarily as an edge rusher in college but is expected to be used in a more traditional off-ball role in the NFL.

Ohio State's Malik Harrison is considered more an on old-school downhill linebacker, but he timed the best 3-cone at the position at 6.83 seconds. Along with his 4.66 in the 40, Harrison could be moving up draft boards if evaluators believe he has the athleticism to improve in coverage.

Must-see photos from the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis

Cornerbacks

It's another draft, and another deep cornerback class. The group impressed with its on-field workouts and drills with many players making their case for first round consideration.

Jeffrey Okudah, the media consensus top cornerback, did nothing to make analysts re-think their evaluations. He measured at 6-1, 205 pounds with 32.5 inch arms and proceeded to run a 4.48 40-yard dash, jump a position-best 135 inches in the broad jump and 41 inches in the vertical jump. He hit his head on the ground during cornerback drills and didn't partake in any more of the workout, but he did do the jumping events after the fall. When Okudah addressed the media, he seemed like a smart and mature young man who could develop into a defensive leader.

Florida's C.J. Henderson was considered by many analysts as the potential second cornerback off the board before the Combine and he only helped himself in Indianapolis. He had the third-best 40 time at 4.39 seconds and was Top 10 in both jumps before looking very smooth in his on-field drills. He could be a Top 15 or 20 pick.

Fellow top cornerbacks LSU's Kristian Fulton (4.46) and Clemson's A.J. Terrell (4.42) both ran well in the 40-yard dash. Notre Dame's Troy Pride Jr. showed his speed and athleticism with a 4.40 in the 40 and looks like he could be a slot cornerback in the NFL. Potential slot cornerbacks Darnay Holmes (UCLA) and Jeff Gladney (TCU) both ran 4.48. Utah's Javelin Guidry, also a potential slot cornerback, ran a position best 4.29.

Two players' pro days to keep an eye on are Ohio State's Damon Arnette (4.56) and Mississippi State's Cameron Dantzler (4.64), who will try to improve on their 40-yard dash times. 

Safeties

There aren't any safeties the media analysts believe will be a Top 10 pick, but that doesn't mean it isn't a talented class. Grant Delpit, considered by many to the best safety in the draft, measured at 6-2 and 213 pounds but did not do any of the athletic testing due to his recovery from a high ankle injury that plagued him for much of the season. He said during his media availability that he thinks he fixed his tackling issues in the season's final games.

Alabama's Xavier McKinney, considered to be the second-best safety in the class, ran a 4.63 40-yard dash and had the seventh-best vertical jump (36 inches). He also jumped 122 inches in the broad jump.

Antoine Winfield Jr. only measured at 5-9 and 203 pounds, but he dominated athletic testing and drills. He was tied for the third-best 40 in the group at 4.45 seconds and was in the Top 10 in both the vertical and broad jumps. He did not run the short shuttle or 3-cone, but his change of direction in drills was excellent.

Division II Lenoir-Rhyne's Kyle Dugger dominated Indianapolis. At a monstrous 6-1 and 217 pounds, he had the best vertical jump (42 inches), second-best broad jump (134 inches) and the sixth-best 40 time (4.49 seconds). He looked smooth in the drills and proved once and for all that his competition level in college should not be held against him. According to multiple reports on NFL Network, he interviewed well with teams. He could be off the board in the top half of the second round.

Clemson's Isaiah Simmons was the talk of the combine, but do not overlook teammate Tanner Muse. Also considered a linebacker/safety hybrid, Muse had the second-best 40 time amongst safeties at 4.41 and looked smooth in drills. Jeremy Chinn, a safety from Southern Illinois, tested well with a 4.45 in the 40 (third-best amongst safeties), a 41-inch vertical jump (second-best amongst safeties) and a 138-inch broad jump (best of the safeties).

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

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