Emerging Rookie John Brown Gives Cardinals One of NFL's Best Young WR Corps

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystJuly 29, 2014

Arizona Cardinals' John Brown stretches during an NFL football training camp, Tuesday, July 29, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Matt York/Associated Press

In Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, the Arizona Cardinals already have one of the best duos at wide receiver in the NFL. Fitzgerald is an eight-time Pro Bowler. Floyd topped 1,000 yards for the first time in his two-year career a season ago.

Now, if early reports from camp are any indication, the Cardinals may have lucked into a speedy diamond in the rough, a third receiver who can stretch the field from the slot.

And if rookie John Brown continues to impress, the Redbirds would be fielding one of the NFL's most formidable receiving corps in 2014.

Of course, it's hardly fair to call Arizona landing Brown "luck." After all, the Redbirds raised more than a few eyebrows when they selected the 5'10", 180-pounder from tiny Pittsburg State in the third round (No. 91) of May's NFL draft.

Since then, all of the eyebrow-raising has been spurred by Brown's on-field performance.

Brown was one of the stars of OTAs for the Cardinals, and a player whom head coach Bruce Arians singled out, according to Adam Green of Arizona Sports.

"He's way ahead of most rookies, Arians said. "And coming from a small school, that's unusual, but it doesn't overwhelm him at all. He learns fast and can apply it fast."

However, as Kyle Odegard of the team's website reported, Arians was a bit more skeptical as the pads came on and training camp got underway. "Can he play that fast? Can he get off the jam?" Arians said. "It’ll be more physical."

Well, so far, so good:

It's been enough for defensive lineman Calais Campbell, one of the team's elder statesmen, to motion toward Brown and then tell Odegard, "Future star right there."

It was also enough for Bleacher Report's Shaun Church to predict that Brown is on a collision course with the starting lineup:

For his part, Brown told Odegard he's trying to take the increased expectations (and contact) in stride:

I don’t treat it any different. People can say what they want to say, but I treat it the same. You’re going to get hit regardless. I don’t feed into all that. I’m just worrying about me and helping the team. When it’s time to show up, I’m going to show up and see how it goes from there.

It's wise that Brown is taking things slowly. Fans of the team would be well-served to take a deep breath, too. After all, Brown has yet to play in a preseason game, much less one that counts.

Still, he has been consistently impressive, and as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com points out, Brown is more than just a one-trick pony:

And that may have as much to do with Brown getting early playing time as anything.

The departure of Andre Roberts in free agency left the Cardinals with a hole in the slot. The team added Ted Ginn in an effort to fill the void, but Ginn is every bit as inconsistent as he is fast.

In other words, the third receiver job is very much up for grabs.

It's also a third receiver role that could pay immediate dividends for the Cardinals, provided they have the right man in that spot.

Yes, Larry Fitzgerald is 30, hasn't topped 1,000 receiving yards since 2011 and may not be the player he once was. He's still better than most, reeled in double-digit touchdowns last year and is sure to draw his fair share (and then some) of defensive attention this season.

Meanwhile, after Floyd's big year, some have proclaimed the passing of the torch at wide receiver in the desert has already happened. Floyd has generated just as many positive headlines this offseason as Brown, and quarterback Carson Palmer told The Associated Press, via USA Today, that he expects big things in Floyd's third NFL season:

"Mike's a young guy. It doesn't seem like it because of his maturity. ... He can do just about everything because he's quick enough. He's a big, physical guy but he plays quick, he plays small as far as releases and getting off the ball."

In other words (again), he is going to be seeing a ton of single coverage in 2014.

There's the future to consider as well. As horrifying as the notion of life after Larry may be for most fans of the team, Fitzgerald's cap number of nearly $24 million in 2015 isn't going away just because you pretend it's not there.

The Cardinals certainly don't appear to be. It's still very early, and Brown is no more a savior now than he was a reach in May. A lot remains to be decided. Still, the Cardinals saw something they liked and were aggressive in picking Brown up.

Now, plenty of other people are seeing what general manager Steve Keim and the Cardinals saw, and it may be that they have found a new tack to take in the NFC West arms race.

Fight fire with firepower.


Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.