It was only somewhat surprising to see former Clemson wide receiver Jaron Brown go undrafted following the 2012 college season. He didn’t exactly blow up the ACC in his time with the Tigers, but that wasn’t his fault—he was overshadowed at his position by two future first-round picks, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.
The physical talent was obvious. Brown is big and showed soft hands in college, and he had a knack for going over the middle to haul in tough receptions. Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim saw something in Brown he liked, so he brought him in as an undrafted free agent after the 2013 draft.
The 6’2”, 205-pound receiver impressed enough during his first training camp to make the 53-man roster at the start of the season. Though he did not play a prominent role in the offense as a rookie, he appeared on offense in all 16 games and finished with 11 receptions for 140 yards (12.7 yards per catch) and a touchdown.
This offseason, the Cardinals signed free agent Ted Ginn Jr. to a three-year, $9.75 million deal to replace Andre Roberts, who signed a free-agent contract with the Washington Redskins. Ginn was to be the No. 3 receiver and play a big part on special teams.
That left Brown right where he was during the 2013 season—as the team’s No. 4 receiver, giving him a good chance to make the roster once again.
But then the 2014 draft came around, and Keim put Brown in a precarious position by giving head coach Bruce Arians the speedy receiver he craves for his vertical attacking offense.
Third-round pick John Brown has been wowing everyone who has laid eyes on him ever since.
Having to battle with bottom-dwelling receivers such as Brittan Golden, Dan Buckner and 2014 sixth-round pick Walt Powell for the fifth and potentially final receiver spot on the 2014 roster, Jaron Brown suddenly had a hill to climb just to keep his cleats hung in the home locker room.
In the three weeks since the Cards camp opened, all he has done is solidify the receiver corps by getting open often, catching everything thrown his way and mixing in an acrobatic catch or five.
He made it clear against the Minnesota Vikings last week who the fifth receiver would be when he turned three catchable targets into two receptions for 86 yards. The first reception was a wide receiver screen he took down the left sideline for 51 yards with great blocking help from the rookie, John Brown.
The second took place later in the game, when backup quarterback Drew Stanton lofted a deep ball down the left sideline toward Jaron. The pass was a bit underthrown, but the receiver made the adjustment and the highlight reel with a fully extended, pluck-it-from-the-top-shelf grab for 35 yards.
Jaron will make the roster as the fifth receiver this season. If he keeps improving, however, is it possible he jumps Ginn as the No. 4 down the road? Arians spoke of Jaron’s confidence in talking with Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:
“I don’t care if it’s Patrick (Peterson), Cro (Antonio Cromartie), or who’s on top of him,” Arians said. “He’s developing a confidence factor to become a really solid player.”
Quarterback Carson Palmer echoed that sentiment: “That is the kind of confidence he is playing with right now and that’s the confidence we have in him because he consistently shows us quarterbacks that he will make a play for us,” Palmer told Urban.
Through two preseason games, Jaron has four receptions on five targets for 101 yards (25.3 YPC) and a touchdown while playing mostly against first- and second-team defenses.
He needed a team to believe in his ability—a franchise that could afford to give him time to develop the talent hidden beneath the big lump of clay he was as a receiver coming out of Clemson.
Keim and Arians believed in him enough to give him that chance, and now the second-year wideout has the cue-ball couple looking like geniuses while making a positive impact on the field for the Cardinals.
And it’s not as though he will be hidden this season. Yes, there is an immense amount of talent ahead of him on the depth chart. But with so much talent—and opposing defenses will have to focus attention on the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown and even tight end John Carlson—Jaron Brown will get his opportunities in select situations to do what he’s been doing all offseason.
If he makes plays when those opportunities arise, he could soon become a player people know as Jaron—and not simply as “the other Brown.”