"Fight on my men," Sir Andrew said. "A little I'm hurt, but not yet slain. I'll just lie down and bleed awhile, then I'll rise to fight again."
While I'm sure there's a famous poet behind that quote, I know it only as legendary Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy's quote for dealing with adversity. There is a current player on the Bills roster that doesn't receive a lot of fanfare, but, mark my words, will be a starter in the NFL. He'll first have to overcome some obstacles scattered in front of him, though.
Brown began his college football career at the University of Richmond. He got off to an inauspicious start, being forced into game action before he was ready. Levi ended up playing in only seven games for the Spiders between 2005-2006, and the Mt. Juliet product elected to transfer to Troy to get a fresh start.
Nothing was handed to Brown there, either. The Trojans brought in highly-touted freshman QB Jamie Hampton, who was given the starting job, as the coaching staff was enamored with his potential.
Midway through the 2008 season, Hampton injured his knee and was lost for the season. Brown played well, leading the Trojans to their first outright Sunbelt championship and was named Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year.
In 2009, the Levi Brown Show had taken center stage. Brown exploded for 4,254 yards and 23 touchdowns. In his first year as a full-time starter, Brown was named Sun Belt Player of the Year for his record-shattering play.
After playing two good years of football, Brown's stock was starting to rise in the scouting community. The Chargers and Titans had worked him out privately. It was rumored he had met with then Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss over breakfast. Even though it took forever, he was the first offensive player from Troy to be invited to the Scouting Combine. Most had him projected to go somewhere in the middle rounds.
In my scouting of Brown, he jumped off the tape. The first thing I look at for lesser-competition guys are their numbers. I usually don't factor stats into much of the evaluation, but if a player can't put up good numbers in that scenario he'll probably struggle to be productive in the NFL. Check (Sun Belt Player of the Year).
Brown also puts zip on his passes. They get from Point A to Point B in a hurry. It helps that he has a pretty quick release. He's not Michael Vick out there, but he has pocket mobility. He can avoid the rush while keeping his eyes downfield. His accuracy is underrated, most likely because his numbers in college were inconsistent, percentage-wise, during his senior season.
However, if you watch his ball placement and inherent touch, he's pretty darn accurate with the football. I loved his competitiveness and his work ethic. He's the type to watch tape and see how he can improve his game. Before the draft, he went over tape with the Polish Rifle, Ron Jaworski, for the same reason. He's a leader that makes his voice heard in the huddle. He has all the intangibles you want in a QB.
He wasn't without his flaws, of course. Coming into the league, he needed to learn to stay in the pocket longer. If he could step up more consistently, he'd make even more plays. Like most gunslingers, he also had a tendency to force some passes he shouldn't have. There's a fine line between playing conservative and protecting the football, and he definitely improved in this aspect during his senior year.
Bottom line, I felt that he had all the physical and mental tools, he was just raw and would have to take the time to get caught up to the speed of the game. He had the most potential out of everyone in that draft class if he could put it all together at the next level. I gave him a late second-round grade (I've since changed up my scouting rating system and he probably would have equated to a third-rounder, but that's not really the point!).
Draft day finally came, and Levi was finally going to get some affirmation from the NFL. Round after round passed, with prospect after prospect flying off the board. Starting around the fourth round, I had taken to screaming at my TV every time the Bills' pick came across the ticker not as "QB Levi Brown, Troy."
Finally, with the 209th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills selected Levi Brown, QB Troy.
In press conferences following the draft, Bills brass talked about how they had targeted him all along on draft day. Head coach Chan Gailey described him as his project that he would work with, giving him a shot at the QB competition.
However, to call what my Bills gave Levi a "shot" would be a joke.
Brown was given very minimal reps in practice, fighting for snaps behind incumbent starter Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Brian Brohm. He was then sent into preseason game action and understandably struggled. The team allowed for him to put bad tape out there for the rest of the league and then released him, without adding him to the practice squad until Edwards was jettisoned after two weeks of horrid play. Brown got a few sniffs from the Patriots and Steelers during that two-week window, but nothing materialized during his group workout with the teams.
Levi was brought back to the Bills and held down the third QB spot for the remainder of the season, taking only a few snaps after Brohm tanked it in a meaningless season finale in New York.
Fast forward to the present. The team elected to sign former Chiefs and Dolphins QB Tyler Thigpen to compete for the No. 2 QB job. Another new acquisition, kick returner/wide receiver/quarterback Brad Smith, will be listed as a QB for the team as well, essentially guaranteeing him the No. 3 spot. The stage is set for an all-or-nothing battle between Brown and Thigpen.
Thigpen is a good fit and had his most productive season under Chan in Kansas City. With his familiarity in Chan's system, I would say he steps in with a leg up on Levi. However, Brown has had the benefit of working on timing and camaraderie with the Bills receiving corps. I'm sure he was also picking Fitzy's brain a bit during their workouts together, taking advantage of his knowledge of the offense. Brown isn't new to adversity and I'm sure he'll be ready to compete.
Brown once said in an interview, "I wouldn't want to be one of those guys who everyone thinks is God's gift to football and is expected to come in here and complete every pass and do everything perfect. I kind of want to be the guy who everybody's like, 'Oh, I've heard a little bit about him. He's probably OK.' And then I come in there and impress them, give them a surprise."
Here's hoping Levi will rise to fight again.