Marlon Brown was one of the 2009 recruiting class' most sought after wide receivers, and understandably so. Labeled as a 4-star recruit by Rivals.com and the No. 2 wide receiver in the nation by Scout.com, Brown had considerable hype coming into Athens.
Three years later, whether that hype was deserved remains a question heading into Brown’s senior season with the Dawgs. It is worth mentioning that Brown played high school football for Harding Academy, who competes at the Double-A level. Yes, he put up monstrous numbers his senior year, but obviously did not face caliber opponents that would prepare him for life in the SEC.
Still, for the past two seasons, Bulldog fans have been excited about a strong spring from Brown, only to be disappointed with the lack of production once the season starts. Perhaps it’s time for the UGA faithful to ask themselves if it’s simply delusional to keep expecting the apparently elusive breakout season from Marlon.
To his credit, Brown certainly has the physical tools to be a standout receiver for the Dawgs. At 6’5”, 222 pounds, quarterback Aaron Murray should only have to get it close Brown when he’s got one-on-one coverage and let the big man go up and get it. And while he may not have blazing speed, Brown can make defenders miss in space and use his size to break tackles.
So what gives?
Looking strictly at the numbers, it certainly appears Brown was way over-hyped. Clearly, 28 receptions for 382 yards and four touchdowns was not the kind of stats anyone envisioned him having in his first three seasons combined.
But, as is often the case, numbers don’t tell the whole story. As previously mentioned, Brown really wasn’t prepared for the SEC his freshman season and perhaps Mark Richt should have considered redshirting him.
Plus, Brown was hampered by nagging injuries his sophomore and junior seasons. In 2010, he suffered a shoulder injury in early October that lingered for the rest of the season. Last year, despite appearing in 12 games with five starts, Brown played with a torn tendon in the ring finger of his right hand and an ankle sprain that bothered him into November. Both injuries occurred before the 2011 season started.
So here we go again.
Let’s get optimistic about Marlon one more time. After offseason surgery to repair his finger, Brown finally appears to be coming into a season 100 percent healthy. He’s put on about 20 pounds since arriving in Athens in 2009. And he’s had three years in the system to learn the offense and how to be a better receiver in general.
We did see improvement last season, with Brown putting up his best career numbers—15 receptions for 234 yards and three touchdowns—despite playing through injuries. Combine that with an outstanding spring and fall, and Brown sits atop the preseason depth chart at the split end position.
So what should Dawg fans realistically expect from Brown in 2012?
Not since the departure of A.J. Green has Georgia had a true go-to receiver, but that seemed to suit Murray just fine last season. The sophomore quarterback spread the ball around nicely, and don’t expect that to change in 2012, especially considering the bevy of talent Georgia returns at wide receiver. Including Brown, the Bulldogs return five wide receivers that posted more than 200 receiving yards—two with more than 600—and all with multiple touchdown catches.
While those might not seem like eye-popping numbers, combined they were good enough for second in the SEC in passing yards and first in passing touchdowns. After putting in a lot of work establishing chemistry with his returning receivers this offseason, expect Murray and company to be even better in 2012.
So no matter how good Marlon comes out looking this season, he’s going to have to share receptions with the likes of Tavarres King, Michael Bennett, Chris Conley and, eventually, last year’s freshman phenom Malcolm Mitchell, not to mention tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome. Still, assuming Brown stays healthy, at least 500 yards and five touchdowns is probably a reasonable expectation for the senior.
If Brown is able to put up those kinds of numbers, he’ll finish out his final season with a sense that he was finally able to be a substantial contributor for the Bulldogs. And after three disappointing years in Athens, it’s a safe bet that’s all he really cares about.