INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown bet big on himself last winter and is about to see the payoff.
Alabama defensive tackle Raekwon Davis may have run out of luck.
After two of the nation's top defensive tackles turned down a chance to enter last year's NFL draft, opting instead to pursue a national championship and a college degree, Brown and Davis arrived at the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis in vastly different circumstances.
Brown is trying to solidify his position as the top-rated interior lineman in this year's draft while Davis needs to rebuild his reputation.
“I'm here to work, I'm here to put on the best show possible," Brown said Thursday in Indianapolis. “I like to impose my will.”
He certainly did in this comparison.
The two college rivals, whose campuses are separated by 160 miles, couldn't find themselves further apart in the eyes of league scouts.
At 6-foot-5, 326 pounds, Brown masterfully takes on blockers, pushes the pocket and stuffs the run. In 53 college games, he had 170 tackles, 13 sacks and 33 1/2 tackles for loss, setting a program record with a 590-pound squat and earning All-American honors as a senior.
“It's easy playing next to him because he takes all the attention away from you," said Marlon Davidson, a college teammate. “It makes my job easy because I set the edge and he just destroys the double teams."
Brown also understands there's more to life than football.
At home, he's helping to raise a 14-month-old son, Kai Asher, with his longtime girlfriend. On campus, he serves as the president of Auburn's Student-Athlete Advisory Council. And the teammates who chose Brown as team captain also nicknamed him “Baby Barack," for his diplomatic skills.
The reward for his endeavors came in 2019 when Brown won the Lott IMPACT Award, which goes to the defensive player whose personal character matches his high athletic achievements, and the Senior CLASS Award, which goes to the nation's top senior student-athlete in each sport.
It's the kind of resume that gets NFL decision-makers talking.
Davis, on the other hand, must prove himself all over again.
Coming out of high school, he was considered one of the nation's top prep defensive players and delivered with a breakout season in the Crimson Tide's 2017 national championship-winning season. With 69 tackles and a team-high 8 1/2 sacks, scouts salivated at the thought of getting the next Aaron Donald.
But after attracting more attention in 2018 and failing to replicate his performance, Davis acknowledged he became a victim of his own success. So he returned to school, hoping for a rebound.
Instead, his stats declined again, dropping from 55 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in 2018 to 47 tackles and a half-sack in 2019.
“There were a lot of things I wasn't doing just to improve my game, but you know I wasn't really focused enough sometimes and there was just a lot of stuff I wasn't doing," he said. “It went to my head, you know, the hype.”
Other questions are almost certain to come up this week, too.
League executives will want to know why Davis punched a Missouri offensive lineman in 2018, which resulted in coach Nick Saban holding him out for the first half the following week. Then there was the 2017 incident in which he was hit by a stray bullet in the parking lot of a bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He didn't miss any games and says it was just a matter of wrong place, wrong time.
The combination makes it unclear exactly where the 6-foot-6, 311-pound Davis fits in the draft. Current draft projections have indicated he is sliding. CBS Sports now ranks him as the No. 6 defensive tackle, while ESPN has him at No. 9.
Davis' best opportunity to change directions may be during the interviews with coaches and general managers in Indy.
“I'm just a special kid," he said. “I've got a high work ethic. I work hard, love the game, love what I do."
It could help him move up.
But he's a long shot to catch Brown.
“My coach always told me don't ever lose," Brown said. “It's been beneficial for a long time."
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