2nd-year RBs: Bryce BrownFriday, June 28, 2013
Do a little research on Bryce Brown's background and you'll quickly realize this was a young player who never wanted to attend college. The No. 1 high school recruit in the entire nation in 2009 -- ranked ahead of Trent Richardson, Matt Barkley, and Lamar Miller among many higher-profile others -- Brown would bounce around schools and perform ineffectively when he played. His college career consisted of 13 games. Brown did just enough to satisfy his NFL eligibility during a three-carry 2011 season at Kansas State, quit the team, and promptly entered the 2012 NFL draft.
I don't think Brown cared where he was drafted because he never showed any desire to build a resume. Brown wasn't invited to the Combine, and even admitted in an interview with NFL Network's Mike Mayock that he didn't expect to be selected. Brown did demonstrate NFL-caliber measurables with a 4.48 forty, 34-inch vertical, and 22 bench-press reps at the K-State Pro Day, measuring in at 5-foot-11 1/2 and 223 pounds.
A seventh-round flier pick by the Eagles, Brown wound up earning 115 carries and four spot starts as a rookie when LeSean McCoy battled a late-season concussion. I re-watched and charted every offensive touch Brown received from Week 11 on (a total of 96). These were my takeaways:
Brown's lack of passion for college football does not define him as a football player. He is an extremely aggressive runner, often to a fault. Aside from four fumbles (three lost), the biggest problem with Brown's first-year game tape was a maddening tendency to bounce runs that were designed to go inside, to the outside. Brown is a 225-pound power back whose strength is getting north-south downhill. When he tried turning inside runs into perimeter runs, Brown became an east-west "run bouncer," leaving solid 3-5 yard gains on the field in favor of boom-or-bust attempts to get the edge. This made Brown highly susceptible to lost-yardage and no-gain runs.
Two quotes from respected color commentators who worked Brown's games:
"That's the third time already he's tried to bounce it outside, and you don't do that in this league." -- NBC's Cris Collinsworth, Philadelphia @ Dallas, Week 13.
"I like Bryce Brown when he gets north and south. When he gets too carried away with his speed laterally, no. North and south, that kid's got a chance to be special." -- NFL Network's Mike Mayock, Cincinnati @ Philadelphia, Week 15.
Brown's propensity for run bouncing was particularly evident in Philly's Week 14 matchup with Tampa Bay. He was held to a pathetic six yards on 12 carries. Nine of Brown's runs in that contest went for one yard or worse.
In fairness to seventh-rounder Brown, he was a raw rookie running behind the league's most banged-up offensive line, and constantly facing backfield penetration. By late in the season, the Eagles were fielding just one of their projected Opening Day front-five starters (LG Evan Mathis).
Run bouncing is fixable, and so is the fumbling. Brown's size-speed combination can't be coached, and that's what gives him big-time NFL potential. Brown is so big that his open-field speed can deceive defenders. I thought Collinsworth worded this nicely:
"I'll tell ya, I have seen this so much," Collinsworth said while breaking down a long run in the Dallas game. "Danny McCray the victim this time, watch the bad angle he takes. People just cannot anticipate the speed of Bryce Brown. It happened in the game last week (versus Carolina). They think they've got it figured out and this kid runs about a 4.3-something forty-yard dash. And I have seen more NFL safeties taking the wrong angle to try to catch him ... he is explosive."
Brown is built powerfully to the point that he almost looks wide. He is physical with plus burst and acceleration, and genuinely rare speed for a man his size. During Brown's coming-out Week 12 demolition of the Panthers -- he rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns -- ESPN's Jon Gruden described Brown as "a big back who can get the corner and finish." Brown consistently runs through arm tackles. Despite weighing at least 15 more pounds than both David Wilson (breakdown here) and Lamar Miller (breakdown here), Brown possesses similar breakaway jets in the open field. Brown is not quite a punishing runner, but I think he could develop that aspect of his game. He flashed the ability to be a runner who piles up yards after contact, relentlessly shucking tacklers.
Another positive on Brown's rookie tape was his pass-catching ability. He has natural hands and catches the football with them as opposed to letting passes get into his body. I thought the latter was an issue with David Wilson.
I also thought Brown demonstrated some nifty footwork -- particularly on upfield cutbacks -- but there was limited wiggle to his game. He doesn't try to make defenders miss with lateral jukes or shake and bake. If Chip Kelly's Eagles get Brown to perform more professionally -- running within offensive design and becoming ball secure -- he will be an ideal complement to shifty, elusive starter LeSean McCoy. And I think Brown could be an every-down sustainer if McCoy went down again.
Andy Reid's Eagles used Brown in a wide array of formations, ostensibly with the goal of springing him into space. He handled the football on delayed draws, screens, direct snaps, stretch-zone plays, and shotgun runs. Brown's extensive experience in the 'gun could help shorten his learning curve in Kelly's shotgun-based offense. Of the 96 first-year touches I charted, 48 (exactly 50 percent) came out of the 'gun. Brown only touched the ball eight times (8.3 percent) in the I formation.
Brown was obviously a project as a rookie; a developmental ball of clay his coaching staff still must mold into a more consistent player. I think Brown has the potential to be a physically imposing downhill runner with breakaway speed. And I am excited to see his role in a Kelly offense that historically utilizes more than one back.