Heading into the draft, analysts were split on Pittsburg State wide receiver John Brown.
The folks at NFL Draft Scout had Brown pegged as an early Day 3 pick, while Damond Talbot of Draft Diamonds believed the AP Little All-American was a quote, unquote special player who deserved to be selected on the second day of the draft.
Coincidentally enough, head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim agreed with Talbot as the Arizona Cardinals drafted Brown with the 91st pick in this year’s draft.
Yes, there were some rumblings from pundits around the league that the 179-pound speedster was overdrafted, yet that didn’t stop Brown from exceeding expectations at the team's rookie minicamp this past week.
According to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com, a Cardinals team source told him "John Brown is blowing everyone away.” The team source also said Brown has “great hands and [is] a better route runner than we even thought.”
Even though the Cardinals rookies haven’t thrown on their helmets or pads yet, it’s safe to say Brown is in the perfect position to develop into a stud wide receiver under Coach Arians. Why? Because “Brown is a T.Y. Hilton-type receiver with speed to burn,” per Shaun Church of Bleacher Report.
Church is right: Brown is a Hilton-type receiver with speed to burn. This is good news for Cardinals fans considering Hilton had an impressive rookie season (50 receptions, 861 yards receiving and seven touchdowns) under Arians’ watchful eye in 2012.
Yet, one shouldn’t expect those types of numbers from Brown in 2014 when you take the time to break down the talent Arizona currently has (Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd) at the wide receiver position.
However, one should expect Arians to utilize Brown the same way he utilized Hilton from a skill set standpoint. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Hilton’s skill set, he is a speedy pass-catcher who possesses good hands and instant acceleration.
Additionally, Hilton is the ultimate deep threat. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the third-year receiver out of Florida International has reeled in 21 receptions of 20 yards or more during the first two years of his young career.
Since Brown is a Hilton-esque receiver, let’s go to the tape and examine his pass-catching ability deep down the field.
On this first-quarter pass play against Northwestern Oklahoma State, Brown made use of his world-class speed and beat press-man coverage for a 76-yard touchdown down the right sideline.
On this next play versus Wayne State in the 2011 Division II national title game, pay close attention to the way Brown ate up the soft cushion the right cornerback gave him.
Despite the fact the corner played seven yards off the line of scrimmage, Brown showcased quick acceleration, fierce speed and the capacity to locate the ball at the stem of his route.
Lastly, on this final play against SBU, Brown not only recorded a deep-passing touchdown, he demonstrated improvisation skills and the proficiency to go up and get the ball at its highest point.
In addition to displaying top-notch speed as a wideout, Brown proved he was a dangerous space player as well. At Pittsburg State, he averaged 13.6 yards a return on punts and 26.9 yards a return on kickoffs.
Moreover, the special teams demon scored three punt return touchdowns and two kick return touchdowns. For the sake of comparison, Hilton garnered four kick return touchdowns and two punt return touchdowns at the collegiate level.
Based on Brown’s return numbers, it’s evident the Cardinals would like to use him on special teams too. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Patrick Peterson’s punt return average plummeted the last two years and Javier Arenas only averaged 21.4 yards a return on kickoffs last season.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean Brown will be handed return duties. He will have to battle free-agent signee Ted Ginn Jr. In fact, Somers of AZCentral.com believes Ginn “is expected to return kicks, and probably most of the punts, in 2014.”
Somers also noted that he thinks Brown will provide depth as a returner, nothing more. Obviously, there is some truth to that notion right now, yet I could easily see things change when training camp rolls around at the end of July.
If Brown is already impressing the coaching staff with his speed, route-running ability and hands, who’s to say he won’t do the same as a return man?
By the time training camp concludes, odds are Ginn will be returning kicks and Brown will be returning punts. Let’s not forget, Arizona didn’t pay Ginn $9.75 million to solely be a returner. The Cardinals are hoping he can be a productive slot wide receiver as well.
In 2013, Ginn set career highs in receiving touchdowns, receiving yards per reception and forced missed tackles.
With that being said, it looks like Brown will contribute heavily on special teams and stretch opposing defenses vertically as the Cardinals’ No. 4 pass-catching option in 2014.
As far as 2015 goes, Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com is certain Brown could make the necessary jump and replace Ginn in the slot as the team’s No. 3 wideout.
Rosenthal is definitely onto something. Ginn will be 30 years old at the start of the 2015 season, and Arizona would save $2.5 million if it cut him before the third day of the 2015 league year.
For a team that isn’t swimming in cap room right now, $2.5 million is a good chunk of change. Furthermore, the Cardinals may be forced to move on from particular players if they plan on making Peterson one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL.
All things considered, Brown landed in the right situation. He’s the perfect fit for Arian’s offense. He won’t be asked to do too much right away. He will be a leader in the locker room. And he will have the opportunity to learn from a future Hall of Famer (Fitzgerald), an emerging star (Floyd) and one of the finest returners in the league (Ginn). Brown said, via Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com:
That's going to be nice to feed off those guys, learn from them and just take my game to another level. That's something big, just watching those guys. Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best players in the game at receiver, and I can learn things from all those guys, and learn from Ted Ginn at the return game.