The Philadelphia Eagles enter 2013 with the potential to feature one of the game’s most dangerous rushing attacks. LeSean McCoy is an All-Pro back capable of handling a full workload. He can catch passes out of the backfield and score every time he touches the football.
Behind McCoy is Bryce Brown, a big, physical back with top speed who has the ability to be a stud sometime soon. A former high school sensation, Brown was a YouTube highlight who was rated as the No. 1 high school player in the nation. He verbally committed to the University of Miami, changed his mind and went to the University of Tennessee, and then transferred to Kansas State University, before declaring for the NFL draft early.
In all, Brown had just 104 career collegiate carries. He barely played at all. He’s still learning the intricacies of the game, which would justify his struggles as a rookie. Still, Brown rushed for 564 yards and four scores on 4.9 yards per carry in 2012. That’s production any team would gladly take from its backup running back.
If Brown lives up to his potential, he and McCoy could combine for 2,000 yards in 2013.
The key will be Brown following his blockers and not fumbling the football, two issues that seriously plagued him a year ago. Learning behind a top back like McCoy will improve every aspect of Brown’s game. The ideal scenario is when Brown becomes effective enough that he’s a strong complement to McCoy, one that can step right in should McCoy get hurt.
A look at some of Brown’s game tape from ’12 shows some of his most defining strengths and weaknesses.
His low moment came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a game the Eagles won behind a dramatic comeback from rookie quarterback Nick Foles. Too many times Brown would bounce to the outside, looking to break off a big gain so he wouldn’t have to run between the tackles. He was facing the league’s top-rated rushing defense, but six yards on 12 carries won’t cut it.
In the above picture, it’s obvious Brown’s initial instinct is to bounce outside. Granted, he was playing behind a makeshift offensive line against the top rushing team. But rather than trusting his own strength, size, and speed, Brown tried to avoid the contact by breaking to the outside.
In this next carry (below), you can see Brown taking a handoff and going around left end. King Dunlap appears to have a solid block, giving Brown a chance to cut to the outside and look upfield.
The defensive back with the up arrow pointed at him is veteran safety Ronde Barber, a player that probably weighs 40 fewer pounds than Brown. But rather than try to run over the smaller Barber, Brown cuts way to the outside. The result is the below picture, in which Brown is stuffed for a loss of seven yards.
To be fair, Brown was facing a tough defense in that game. The Buccaneers routinely stacked up to nine men in the box, leaving just two deep safeties.
That made it a little more difficult for Brown than the Carolina game, when the Panthers played a traditional 4-3 defense with the linebackers at least five yards off the line of scrimmage.
Again though, Brown showed a strong tendency to bounce outside at the first sign of trouble. Here’s a carry of his in the third quarter that shows him almost heading to the sidelines.
It was a far cry from the breakout performance Brown showed in the Monday night contest against the Carolina Panthers. In that one, Brown rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries, averaging over nine yards per carry. That put him on the national radar, and it started with a 19-yard run in the first few minutes of the game.
On that run, Brown followed his blockers and stayed inside. See Brown’s head at the tip of the arrow? He got further downfield and rather than cutting to the outside, he took advantage of Dennis Kelly’s block and stayed inside.
The result was a 19-yard gain, which sent a message to the Panthers to look out for Brown.
Later, Brown took another carry and went to the outside. Rather than cut out of bounds, Brown stayed on the field and ran right through a trio of Panthers defenders.
Brown’s biggest play of the game (and maybe of the season) came later when he took a carry to the outside and went 65 yards for a score.
Good luck to the Panthers trying to keep up with Brown, who timed at a ridiculous 4.38 in the 40-yard dash coming out of college. That’s straight-line speed that makes him a dynamic threat as a ball carrier.
Last year, Brown seemed to have the Chris Johnson effect. When he was playing top teams against the run, he struggled. And he really struggled, averaging fewer than two yards per carry on 40 carries over the final five games.
But against the Panthers and Dallas Cowboys—two teams that averaged 18th in the NFL against the run—he exploded onto the scene. Brown rushed for a combined 347 yards and four touchdowns when McCoy was out.
Even if he does cure his desire to run outside whenever he can, Brown will need to cut down on his fumbling issues. He had some alarming ball security issues, holding the ball as if he was advertising to the defense that it was theirs to take.
Here’s another lost fumble by Brown, a crucial one late in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys. This one was knocked out by Cowboys’ defensive tackle Josh Brent and taken all the way for a 50-yard touchdown, icing a Dallas win. Essentially, this was just poor ball control by Brown, and it gave him three lost fumbles in two games.
The ball security has to improve. Brown still hasn’t played too much running back in his post-high school career. He’s incredibly raw, and at age 22, he has plenty of time to work on his ability to hold onto the ball. The problem is Chip Kelly can’t possibly expect to utilize Brown as a No. 2 back unless Brown can limit his fumbles.
This offseason will be vital for Brown to improve some of the most basic skills. He has an incredible gift physically. His size and speed can’t be taught. If he can show the ability to perform at a consistent basis, he cements himself as a top backup in the NFL. But if his problems persist, he’s not going to see many touches at all.