Noah Igbinoghene

Defensive draft prospects who fit Bill Belichick's early-90s wish list

Defensive draft prospects who fit Bill Belichick's early-90s wish list

Daniel Jeremiah stumbled upon a gem late last month. In the middle of some spring cleaning, he found a set of notes he was given during a "scout school" session during his time with the Baltimore Ravens. Now the lead draft analyst for NFL Network, they were notes Jeremiah was happy to rediscover. 

Compiled by scout Dom Anile, who'd previously worked for the Browns under head coach Bill Belichick, the notes were dated Feb. 13, 1991. In those sentences and paragraphs chock full of scout speak were position-by-position traits of what Belichick wanted his staff to be looking for as their roster was built.

Jeremiah tweeted out the offensive notes and shared the defensive ones on his "Move the Sticks" podcast. We'll lay out the podcast transcription at each defensive position for you, then provide a player who fits the description. (You can find our offensive fits here.)

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One historical note before we dive in. 

The 1991 offseason was Belichick's first with the Browns after finishing the 1990 season as defensive coordinator with the Giants. Belichick used a 3-4 style defense as a coordinator. In Cleveland, he hired Nick Saban, who preferred a 4-3 style scheme, to be his defensive coordinator. That '91 team ended up using a 4-3 defense.

But in February of that year -- when these notes were compiled by Anile -- it looks like that decision hadn't yet been made. In fact, the very day these notes were taken (Feb. 13) was the same day Saban announced he was leaving Toledo to join the Browns. He might not have been given the keys to the defense just yet.

All that is to say that it seems as though Belichick had a 3-4 defense in mind when he had this meeting, detailed by Anile, with his scouts. The giveaway? Belichick purportedly refers to good outside linebackers as guys who can "stay on the line."  Those are the edge defenders in a 3-4. (In a 4-3, "Sam" and "Will" linebackers play off the line.)

Also, in a 3-4, a defensive end is someone who generally plays head-up on a tackle and is built like Ty Warren or Richard Seymour -- around 300 pounds with good length. Keep that in mind when we hit the "outside linebacker" and "defensive end" position groups below.

Jeremiah first read off some general defensive thoughts from the notes.

"Defense: Defend the middle of the field first. Do not allow offense to run or pass inside. Pressure on the QB up the middle. Force them to go outside. Make sure you have a third-down cover LB or sixth DB to match up on the Metcalfs of the world, etc." 

Then the meeting shifted to desired positional traits.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE/NOSE TACKLE

"DT/NT: Inside guys need explosive quickness and can play well in a fairly confined space," Jeremiah said, reading his notes on his "Move the Sticks" podcast. "Explode, power, quickness, leverage. If he's big and has explosive quickness, it's what you want. 4.8 speed is not the main ingredient. Size can be 275 and up if he has the other ingredients. Need a big, strong guy that you can bring in when you have to go across from the Munchaks and the Munozes."

Defensive tackle/nose tackle fit: Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina

Kinlaw most certainly has the "explosive quickness" that is mentioned in the above description. The 6-foot-5, 324-pounder dominated early practices at the Senior Bowl and was a physical mismatch every week for the Gamecocks. That explosiveness made him a first-team All-SEC selection and a first-team All-American. He's versatile enough to play anywhere between the tackles and his length (35-inch arms) gives him the "leverage" sought by any defensive coach.

Kinlaw will likely be long gone by the time the Patriots are on the clock at No. 23. Auburn's Marlon Davidson (6-3, 303) fits the bill as a "big, strong guy" with explosiveness. He bulked up from playing 285 pounds during the season and yet still ran a 40-time in the 5.0-second range.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

"DEs: All-around player. Big, strong and can run," Jeremiah continued. "These are the hardest guys to find. Would rather have the big strong guy than the faster guy to stop the run first and can substitute in for the pass-rush. 1: You cannot get knocked off the line.

"2. Size over speed at defensive end. 3. Pressure up the middle for the QB can cause more problems than guys running around the corner. 4. Frame and growth potential are very important."

Defensive end fit: Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M

All-around player? When he's on, Madubuike (6-3, 293 pounds) is one of the best in this year's draft class at defending both the run and the pass along the defensive line. He has all the size needed (including long 33.5-inch arms) to hold up, and yet has the "frame and growth potential" to get even bigger. He has plenty of strength (31 reps of 225 pounds, 81st percentile).

And he can run. He can most definitely run. He clocked a 4.83-second 40 time at the combine (97th percentile) to go along with a 7.37-second three-cone drill (88th). These types might be "hardest to find," but Madubuike could be available to the Patriots at No. 23 because he's a bit unrefined in his technique and he was not a consistently dominant player.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

"OLBs: Big, rangy guy who can run if you can get them," Jeremiah continued. "They're usually the first-round picks. Settle for guys who can stay on the line. Long arms, quick hands. The 6-2 OLBs are hard to like even if they can run upfield. They're small with no range. OLBs need size, speed and athletic ability."

Outside linebacker fit: Julian Okwara, Notre Dame

Okwara wasn't able to test at the combine because of injury. If he had? He likely would've been one of the better athletes at the edge defender spot in Indy. The 6-foot-4, 252-pounder is a "big, rangy guy who can run." He can run up the field to get after quarterbacks, and he had plenty of experience dropping into coverage for the Irish.

You could settle for someone "who can stay on the line," but Okwara gives you more than that. He has length (34.5-inch arms) and quick enough hands to latch onto tackles and convert his speed to power. "Size, speed and athletic ability" is what you want? Check, check and check.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

"Inside LBs: Has to be able to play in close quarters, instinctive, explosive tacklers who can face up and knock guys back," Jeremiah said. "Can play zone defense and not be put in man-to-man situations. Good blitzers. Must be football smart. Don't need great intelligence. Need instincts. Quickness and aggressiveness, leverage and explosive power."

Inside linebacker fit: Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech

Brooks is instinctive enough that he was able to switch positions -- going from outside linebacker to inside last year -- and still earn second-team All-American honors. The 6-foot, 240-pounder isn't as big as someone like Ohio State's Malik Harrison (6-3, 247), but he's the definition of an "explosive tackler." There are plenty of plays on his tape where he shows he can "face up and knock guys back."

Brooks isn't all that adept in coverage at this point, but there's no doubt he's athletic enough to play in space (4.54-second 40 time) and can effectively drop into zone coverage. As a blitzer, he produced with 44 total pressures on 117 pass-rush snaps, per Pro Football Focus. 

SAFETIES

"Safeties: Tacklers. Especially at the safety spot," Jeremiah continued. "Want to be at least 200 pounds. Speed 4.5-4.6 range. Need range at the two deep safeties. Do not need mental giants. Need size/speed guy. Have to be able to cover man-to-man. The 200-pound 4.75 tough guy cannot play for us. Guy has to be able to play the pass. The traditional strong safety guy vs. the run is not what we need. Former corners moved inside to safety might be ideal if they have size. Ball skills and judgment are essential, more so than pure speed and athleticism."

Safety fit: Terrell Burgess, Utah

Burgess is a fascinating prospect, and he appears to fulfill just about every prerequisite listed in Anile's notes. He's a tackler, showing a clear ability with the Utes to break down, get under control and drive through opponents. At 5-foot-11, 202 pounds, he has enough bulk to satisfy this wish list. And his speed (4.46-second 40) is more than adequate.

Burgess makes sense here as well because he has man-to-man cover skills. He's a converted corner (suggested by Belichick as a good background for a safety to have) who knows how to press at the line of scrimmage and mirror routes as well -- if not better -- than any safety in the class. His ball skills are good, coming up with one pick and six pass breakups in 2019.

CORNERBACKS

"CBs: Tackle and force guys," Jeremiah added. "You need one pure cover corner, 5-10 range and up. Cannot put guys on the field who cannot tackle. Size becomes a factor. Small cover corner guys a liability. Intelligence on defense is not a great factor.

"DBs have to work well together like an offensive line. Need a sense of teamwork and unselfishness. Five potential problems: 1. Tackling. 2. Selfishness. 3. You need size. Big, physical, strong guys. 4. Need competitiveness. Guys that play hard for 60 minutes. What does a guy do on the PAT? 5. Need symmetry in defense."

Cornerback fit: Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn

You want a tackler? At corner? Really? Really. Igbinoghene is probably among the best of the bunch in this year's draft class. TCU's Jeff Gladney, another player who doesn't mind the physical nature of the game, would be another. But let's roll with Igbinoghene here because he's coming from the SEC, he's more accustomed to going against more pro-style offenses, and he has a great deal of experience in press coverage.

At 5-10, 198 pounds, Igbinoghene isn't the biggest boundary defender available this year, but he's big enough. And while speed, explosiveness or change-of-direction ability isn't mentioned above, he has that too. Igbinoghene ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash and clocked a 4.19-second short-shuttle to go along with a 128-inch broad jump. And thankfully for Igbinoghene, what's not mentioned in the notes for corners is ball skills. Though athletic and physical, the number of plays he made on the football while with the Tigers was lacking.

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2020 NFL Draft player rankings: Top 10 cornerbacks available

2020 NFL Draft player rankings: Top 10 cornerbacks available

Cornerback is routinely one of the most popular positions to target in the NFL draft. In two of the past three drafts, cornerback has been the most selected position by NFL teams. And it's easy to understand why.

In the modern NFL, teams need to have as many athletic cover men as possible to keep pace with the league's best passing attacks. Often, it's recommended to have at least four strong corner options while also holding onto a young player to see special teams action or play at the position.

In 2020, cornerback figures to be a popular position once again. There are plenty of talented players at the position and as many as five could be selected in the first round. But if the number is lower than that, Day 2 will surely see a lot of potential starting corners come off the board.

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Cornerback is one of the New England Patriots' strengths. On the outside, they have arguably the league's best cornerback in Stephon Gilmore as well as quality veteran Jason McCourty and solid third-year player J.C. Jackson. In the slot, Jonathan Jones has been very good for the team and plays a key role on special teams for the squad.

But you can never have too many cornerbacks. And with McCourty turning 33 in August, the Patriots may want to add some depth at the position with one of their many mid-round picks.

And perhaps if the Patriots are lucky, one of the top 10 cornerbacks available will fall into their lap at some point during the 2020 NFL Draft.

1. Jeffrey Okudah

College: Ohio State
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 34 tackles, three interceptions, nine pass defenses

Okudah is the best cornerback in this draft class. He's a natural in coverage, has solid athletic ability (he ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the combine and logged a 135-inch broad jump), and has good size and length on his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame. Even playing on a team with Chase Young, arguably the best overall prospect in this draft, Okudah showed that he can be a stud at the next level and his ball skills were a big part of Ohio State's run to the College Football Playoff. He should be a No. 1 corner in the NFL for a long time and may be the second defensive player off the board in the draft.

Projected Round: First (Top 10 picks)

2. C.J. Henderson

College: Florida
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 26 tackles, zero interceptions, 11 pass defenses, one sack

Henderson is a player who has been on the rise of late. The Florida product could work his way into the top 10 and is similarly sized to Okudah (6-foot-1, 204 pounds). Henderson is an excellent athlete and was a standout at the combine, blazing a 4.39 in the 40 with a 37.5-inch vertical jump. He plays as fast as his numbers suggest and he should be able to cover speed receivers as well as bigger-bodied guys. And for those worried that he had no interceptions last year, he had six in the previous two combined. So, with better luck, he'll likely grab some as a rookie.

Projected Round: First (Top 20 picks)

3. Trevon Diggs

College: Alabama
Class: Senior
2019 stats: 37 tackles, three interceptions, eight pass defenses

Diggs started his career as a wide receiver at Alabama, the same position as his brother, Stefon. But he moved over to the defensive side of the ball given Alabama's talent at receiver and that has worked out well. Diggs had a very good senior season after recovering from a foot injury that sidelined him at the end of his junior campaign. He set career highs in all major defensive categories and should track the ball well in the NFL thanks to his skills as a receiver. And at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he nearly identically matches Okudah and Henderson's size and had the longest arms among cornerbacks measured at the combine (32 3/4 inches).

Projected Round: Late First/Early Second

4. Kristian Fulton

College: LSU
Class: Senior
2019 stats: 38 tackles, one interception, 14 pass defenses

Joe Burrow wasn't the only reason the LSU Tigers won the National Championship last season. The defense had to hold up against some tough offenses and that included Clemson. Fulton was the top corner, across from freshman standout Derek Stingley, and had a very good season. The 6-foot senior held up well in coverage and contested catches consistently. His 4.46 40-yard dash and sub-7-second time in the 3-cone drill helped him as well. He could be a late first-round pick as a result of those numbers.

Projected Round: Late First/Early Second

5. A.J. Terrell

College: Clemson
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 34 tackles, two interceptions, three pass defenses, 0.5 sacks

Terrell is a former five-star recruit and while he had a lot of trouble against LSU in the National Championship Game, he has done a bit to rehabilitate his stock in recent weeks. Terrell performed well in the combine drills and showed off his good athletic ability by clocking a 4.42 40. He may need some time to continue to develop in the NFL, but the raw athletic potential is there and some team may view him as a starter on the outside who will only get better with time.

Projected Round: Late First/Early Second

6. Jaylon Johnson

College: Utah
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 36 tackles, two interceptions, 11 pass defenses

Johnson was a big-time playmaker for Utah defense the past three seasons. The sturdily-built 6-foot, 193-pound corner was a great ball-tracker for Utah in his final season and likely played himself into the second round. He wasn't flashy at the combine -- a 4.5-second 40, 15 bench press reps, 7.01-second 3-cone drill -- but he showed well in the athletic tests and did well in the on-field drills. He looks like a rock-solid starter at the next level.

Projected Round: Second

7. Cameron Dantzler

College: Mississippi State
Class: Redshirt junior
2019 stats: 40 tackles, two interceptions, eight pass defenses, 0.5 sacks

Dantzler is one of the bigger corners in this class at 6-2. He was once considered to be a potential first-round pick, but a slow 40 at the combine (4.64 seconds) will likely drop him to the second round. That said, he plays faster than that speed and he knows how to use his height to his advantage. If he can bulk up a bit (188 pounds) while maintaining his play speed, he should be a fine starter.

Projected Round: Second

8. Jeff Gladney

College: TCU
Class: Redshirt senior
2019 stats: 31 tackles, one interception, 14 pass defenses, 0.5 sacks

Gladney has been a stalwart on the TCU defense for the better part of four seasons. He's highly productive and has a knack for knocking down passes with his 31 7/8-inch arms.  At 5-10, 191, he doesn't have great size. Still, he's a solid athlete who showed well at the combine and simply knows how to impact plays. Due to Gladney's slighter frame, he may be forced into slot detail in the NFL, which keeps him lower on these rankings than some have him. Either way, he should find an NFL home and hold up well on the outside or inside.

Projected Round: Second or Third

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9. Noah Igbinoghene

College: Auburn
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 42 tackles, zero interceptions, seven pass defenses

Igbinoghene converted to defensive back after his freshman year at Auburn. And while he is raw, he has the makings of a really good NFL corner. Igbinoghene has a thick build. He's just 5-foot-10, but he tips the scales at 198 pounds and has 31 3/4-inch arms. He should hold up well against strong receivers and has enough athletic ability and explosiveness (4.48 40) to stay with quicker guys. Because of his lack of experience, he may need more time to hone his technique before he can be a starter. But his upside is sky-high.

Projected Round: Second or Third

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10. Damon Arnette

College: Ohio State
Class: Redshirt senior
2019 stats: 35 tackles, one interception, eight pass defenses

Arnette was overshadowed a bit by Okudah, but he was still a strong corner for the Buckeyes last season. He is versatile with the ability to play outside or in the slot and plays faster than his 4.56 time in the 40 would indicate. Arnette isn't perfect and he'll need to improve his discipline in the NFL. Still, he has all the tools needed to make that happen.

Projected Round: Second or Third