Rookie Watch At The Quarter Mark: Defense

By Simon Carroll

With a quarter of the regular season already in the books, Simon Carroll takes a look at the standout rookie at each position so far and how they compare to their pre-draft scouting report. The first article focused on the offense – now it’s time to look at the defensive side of the ball:

Edge: Chase Young, Washington Football Team

Chase Young, Edge, Ohio State Buckeyes

Height: 6’5”.   Weight: 265lbs

PRO’S: A monster put in pads. Physically imposing - too strong and too big for any offensive tackle could cope with in college. Elite play strength and power - discards linemen as he goes past them or uses them as a battering ram on his way into the backfield. Just does not stop attacking the edge all game. Excellent hand technique - couples it with astonishing upper body pop to dominate at the point of engagement. Impressive speed off the snap, and gets quicker the further he gets out of his stance. Shows impressive array of pass rush moves and dip as he rounds the edge - blockers rarely get their hands into him. Doesn’t just set the edge in the run game - he squeezes it. Ultra-productive at college in all aspects of the position.

CON’S: Minimal occasions where you’d see him play with his pads too high. Tries to jump the snap sometimes. But we’re really being fussy here. Missed two games this year due to an NCAA infraction over accepting money from a friend to allow family members to attend a bowl game - unlikely to cause much concerns to NFL teams.

SIMON CARROLL: “Mine and most other’s top prospect in this whole draft class, Young is a player who can scarily get even better. He’s a quarterback killer, a heat-seeking missile, a terror off the edge who is also excellent in the run game. He can play stood up and drop into coverage, but he’s at his lethal best with his hand in the dirt and his ears pinned back. He’s as close to perfect a prospect as I’ve seen in ten years of scouting and will be a perennial all-pro in the NFL”.



Rookie Watch
Credit: Associated Press

As with the offense, there really was nowhere else to start. The second overall pick in April’s draft, Chase Young has been everything Washington fans hoped and more despite missing most of week three and the whole of week four with a groin strain. 2.5 sacks and 8 combined tackles in his first two outings hasn’t been bettered by any other rookie who has played all four games. Young was a man amongst boys at Ohio State and the jump to the NFL has not phased him one bit, adding even more playmaking ability to a stacked front seven.

Not much to say about this one really – anyone with a set of eyes knew Young was a monster, and with the recent success of former Buckeyes Joey and Nick Bosa the likelihood of him flopping were slim to none. Two games is a small sample size, but when you make this kind of impact on your NFL debut then you’ll forgive me for the optimism:

Interior Defensive Line: Derrick Brown, Carolina Panthers

Derrick Brown, IDL, Auburn Tigers

Height: 6’5”.   Weight: 318lbs

PRO’S: Huge interior defensive lineman who has the size athleticism to line up in multiple spots in an odd or even front. Huge, wide frame that along with his big arms is able to two-gap and swallow up anything that comes his direction. Amazing quickness for a man his size and shoots immediately off the line and into his blocker. Fast, violent hands that usually gets the first contact, disrupts the lineman and puts them on the back foot. Stacks and sheds with unnerving ease as the ball carrier hits the line. Power move is almost uncontrollable for guards. Brings interior pass-rushing ability and is constantly wreaking havoc in the backfield. Ridiculous speed to run down ball carriers and quarterbacks from the backside.

CON’S: Is tall and plays it - demonstrates a lack of knee bend and that might cause leverage problems at the next level. Needs to develop speed rush moves to compliment his power game. Can sometimes get a little impatient and misread the running lane.

SIMON CARROLL: “Every draft there are maybe a maximum of five prospects who you can consider ‘elite’, and Derrick Brown is without doubt one of those guys. His athleticism takes your breath away - just watch the game vs Ole Miss where he runs on late from the sideline and takes out the running back as if he was playing corner! His scheme versatility - can play nose or 5 tech in a 3-4 or either interior spot in a 4-3 - makes him a home run selection for any team in this draft”.



Rookie Watch
Credit: Brandon Todd

It’s not just coincidence that an upturn in the Panthers’ fortune runs parallel with Derrick Brown taking over as the leader of this defensive line. At Auburn, Brown was often unplayable – the ultimate disruptor against the run and a remarkable nose for the backfield. Just three tackles in his first two games on a young Carolina defensive unit came with two losses. But Brown absolutely exploded in week three as The Panthers tore apart the Chargers. To date, Brown has ten tackles on the season, five for a loss.

Those tackles in the backfield complement the pre-draft report nicely. But it’s the role of a leader, just four games into his professional career, that should impress Carolina fans the most. At Auburn Brown was the king of The Tigers, often putting the team on his back. And it seems set to continue at his new home. Every draft pick was spent on the defensive side of the ball, and with Luke Kuechly retiring someone needed to pick up the mantle. Derrick Brown has not been found wanting.

Linebacker: Kenneth Murray, Los Angeles Chargers

Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma Sooners

Height: 6’2”.   Weight: 234lbs

PRO’S: Physical linebacker with excellent range who makes plays all over the field. 100% effort prospect who attacks the football from snap to end of play. Urgent off the snap with the acceleration to get ahead of down blockers and to the ball carrier. And when he gets there - wow! Murray LOVES to hit. Drives into his opponent with venom. Impressive tackler - pursuit is efficient and rarely misses his man, even with arm tackles. Shows good mobility to slide between blocks and into the backfield and make plays. This athleticism should translate well to pass coverage at the next level.

CON’S: Play diagnosis is susceptible to deception. Plenty of occasions on tape where he misreads the play. And because he’s operating at warp speed a little mistake can look like a full blown mess. Only has eyes for the football and can sometimes not be quite as aware of his surroundings as he should be. Game built on athleticism and a noted lack of functional power when engaged with blockers; finds it difficult to shed to the football.

SIMON CARROLL: “A tornado on the field, Murray was born to disrupt offenses. His outstanding athleticism allows him to shoot gaps and be a playmaker behind the line of scrimmage - 36.5 TFL’s and 9.5 sacks in his Oklahoma career testifies to that. Suitable at pretty much any linebacker spot in any alignment, he’s best when he can keep off blocks and zero in on the football.”


Rookie Watch
Credit: Mike Nowak (

Talk about taking over a team. Through four games, Kenneth Murray has played more than 90% of the defensive snaps for The Chargers, more than any other player on that side of the ball save the two starting cornerbacks. After trading back into the first round to draft him it’s no surprise The Chargers inserted him straight into the starting lineup, and Murray has justified that position on the depth chart. 33 combined tackles is more than healthy, with the former Sooner notching up double figures in two of the four games including a dominating performance against the Superbowl champions Kansas City.

From the outset defensive co-ordinator Gus Bradley had big plans for Murray, giving him the responsibility to communicate the play in the huddle and organise the defense pre-snap. Much like Derrick Brown, Murray is already a key piece on his defense. Minor concerns regarding his injury history have proved unfounded through the first four contests, but labelling him a ‘tackling machine’ has predictably come to fruition. The Chargers will be delighted with the early outlook for both their first round selections.

Cornerback: L'Jarius Sneed, Kansas City Chiefs

Credit: Associated Press

A fourth-round pick, L’Jarius Sneed is probably the wildcard on this list. The cornerback class of 2020 was stacked, and guys like CJ Henderson and Jaylon Johnson have made significant impacts on their respective teams. But it’s the versatile playmaker from Louisiana Tech who gets the nod. Predominantly used as a corner in college, Sneed’s aggression and downhill speed had many wondering if he would move to box safety. The Chiefs kept him on the outside, and it has paid dividends.

Disclaimer – Sneed never got a scouting report, although I was able to watch him a little on tape (mostly whilst I was grinding the film on fellow DB Amik Robertson). Take a look at Joe Marino’s breakdown of the corner over at The Draft Network here. Serviceable if not spectacular, Sneed surprised almost everyone by being named the starter whilst Bashaud Breeland served his four game suspension. The rookie repaid the faith shown in him by Steve Spagnuolo with a pick in each of his first two games, including a phenomenal snag that changed the fortunes for The Chiefs against The Chargers:

Sadly, Sneed broke his clavicle in week 3 and is predicted to miss at least 6 weeks of game time. That’s a bitter blow for KC, who have unearthed a potential star. Sneed settled in quickly, working well with Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary. The quicker he’s back on the field, the better.

Safety: Antoine Winfield Jr, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Antoine Winfield Jr, S, Minnesota Golden Gophers

Height: 5’10”.   Weight: 195lbs

PRO’S: Tough guy linebacker with incredible play strength for his short frame. Has impressive muscle mass on a short body, allowing him to stand up to Tight Ends at the line of scrimmage. Elite instincts - obvious he comes from a footballing background. Just has a sixth sense for where the football is going and is able to put himself in a position to negate the play. Reads an offense pre-snap as well as any safety in this class. Leader of the secondary - shares his wisdom with his teammates and adjusts accordingly. Phenomenal with the ball in the air - natural tracking of the football, takes smart, efficient angles when coming downhill and closing, and good timing to attack the catch point. A playmaker - seven interceptions his final year at Minnesota.

CON’S: Undersized with a lack of length, although neither have precluded him from being competitive physically or making plays on the football. Doesn’t have elite quickness and struggles to cover every blade of grass as a high safety. Has some issues matching the transitions of quicker receivers in man coverage - hips a little stiff. Short arms mean some tackles can escape him, but for the most part he wins with good technique to wrap up. Significant injury history which medical teams will want to check out.

SIMON CARROLL: “One of my favourite players in this draft, Antoine Winfield was a key reason for Minnesota’s Cinderella story last season. He’s small, lacks elite speed and has short arms. So what? He’s an absolute baller who has nailed down every aspect of the position by maxing out the things he can control. His sharp instincts and ball skills make him a prime candidate as a two-deep safety who can drop near the line when matching up with bigger threats across the middle. He’ll be on the field all three downs and is a high-value pick somewhere in the second round”.



Rookie Watch
Credit: Chris O'Meara (Associated Press)

No unit seems more transformed so far this season than the Buccaneers’ secondary. A youthful group that has shown more aggression and playnmaking ability in four games than Tampa achieved the last two years seems to have been invigorated by the addition of Antoine Winfield. The son of the former Viking and all-pro Antoine Winfield Sr. has far from disgraced his bloodlines, thriving as a versatile safety in Todd Bowles’ defense.

Winfield operated as a kind of ‘three-quarter’ safety as a Golden Gopher, coming down into the box to showcase his physicality whilst also more than comfortable in coverage. Those attributes have not been lost in his relocation from Minnesota to Florida; Winfield has thrived as a strong safety, recording 25 total tackles and adding two sacks on blitz plays. He’s played on all but one snap this year, and has provided special teams value too.

The concerns were size and durability, and neither so far have been a factor. They say the best players have a positive effect on their teammates. Winfield’s confidence, aggression and winning mentality have spread through this secondary. At 3-1 and with plenty more to come from this defense, The Buccaneers can be very happy with their second round pick.

For all of last year’s NFL Draft content, visit our Draft Hub here:

Mock Draft

Simon Carroll


previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.