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.


"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.


"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.


"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 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: 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.


"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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