Some players are just a different breed. The typical rules don’t apply to them. A wide receiver fitting this billing is rare and they don’t always slide into the same archetype.
We typically imagine these truly outside the norm player as a behemoth, outside the numbers X-receiver. The modern NFL and the expansion of wide receiver roles have opened us to new possibilities. The prototypical receiver doesn’t exist anymore, at least not in the way we understood it 10 or even five years ago.
After watching Marquise “Hollywood” Brown’s film, I’m ready to believe he might be that type of difference-maker. It won’t take anyone who appreciates explosive talent to fall for Brown’s game. His sudden ability to change direction in-route and lose a cornerback is matched only by speed that can cause an entire defense to break down.
Hollywood has a few questions to answer in his profile… those are real and undeniable. However, after letting his game film marinate and examining how he could stack up to several established NFL players, it’s hard to imagine not wanting to invest in this player. He’s different. If it all hits for him, he might be special.
Marquise Brown will enter the NFL after two productive seasons playing with top quarterback prospects Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. He cemented his “Hollywood” nickname by racking up 2,413 yards and 17 touchdowns on 132 catches from 2017 to 2018. His beefy 18.3 yards per catch perfectly embodies what a dynamic big-play threat he is. Anyone who watched him was instantly dazzled.
Brown comes with two major questions as he looks forward to draft day at the end of April, both physical in nature. Not only has Brown been rehabbing a dreaded Lisfranc injury this offseason, but he also measured in at a painfully slight 166 pounds during the NFL Scouting Combine.
The second question is a bit easier to wave off, at least to the degree of panic one naturally has when we see 166 on the scale. There’s no denying that Brown is small. At 5-foot-9, the best case scenario you can hope for is that he plays in the 175-pound range as a pro. I’m skeptical we should assume he’s ever going to be as light as he was in February ever again.
Anyone who has ever had major surgery can tell you that your body goes through major changes in the months to follow. Weightloss, sometimes even significant loss, is expected. A wide receiver with as devastating a malady as a Lisfranc fracture would see their fitness plan altered to an intense degree.
The combine weigh-in was less than two months after Brown and the Sooners lost to Alabama in the college football playoffs. He played through his foot injury in that game. So is Brown a small player? Of course. But is he 166 pounds, below-the-minimum-thresholds-small? That’s less certain considering the circumstances.
The second question in Brown’s profile as it relates to his injury is not as easy to wave away. Foot injuries have thwarted the progress of other wide receivers before Brown. A 2016 study from The American Journal of Sports Medicine found that “more than 90% of NFL athletes who sustained Lisfranc injuries returned to play in the NFL at a median of 11.1 months from time of injury” with no statistically significant decrease in their future performance compared with peers.
Nevertheless, it’s a concern to note for Brown. We’ve also seen in recent years that NFL receiver prospects who miss long stretches of their first offseason programs fail to get rolling as rookies. Some are still struggling to take off. Brown has been cleared to run and might well be ready for mini-camps but any lost time due to setbacks would be troubling.
The reason NFL teams will still be clamoring to draft Hollywood Brown despite the obvious size and possible injury concerns is simple: He is an exquisite talent.
Personally, I’m sold on it. No. I’m downright enamored.
The 2019 NFL Draft class has a number of appealing wide receiver prospects and a litter of possible big outside starts. Brown still stands out among them. His film is the most enthralling of the crop. Brown has more plays that make you say “yep, that translates” than any other receiver in this class.
The big plays and the flash are obvious. Brown is a threat to house it any time he touches the ball. He doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being a physical player with the ball in his hands. There are many plays where Brown cuts through defenses and breaks tackles simply because of his contact balance and how hard it is to get a firm grasp on him.
Don’t let the flash convince you that’s all he is. Brown displays technical precision at several points in-route. While defenders often show too much respect for his speed and vertical game to press him at the line, Brown has a number of moves in his arsenal to release from the line. He primarily wins with elite agility and foot quickness against press but also isn’t shy about engaging in a hand fight with a corner.
Brown’s ability to win off the line will keep his next team’s options open in regards to using him outside. His size would make him a natural fit as a speed slot. He would excel in that role but much like a T.Y. Hilton type of player, he could alternate between that position and flanker to fill multiple roles in his next offense.
Brown could use a bit more nuance further down the route, which isn’t a surprise from a college player. He is a natural separator because of his blistering speed and quickness, we should see that translate to the pro level because it was so stark in college. However, if Brown adds a few more layers of route-running savvy, he could inch toward the uncoverable territory.
The obvious comparison for Marquise Brown is DeSean Jackson. We don’t have to stretch too far to find another one. Jackson is listed at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, giving a good framework for Brown to aspire to hit as a pro player.
Much like Jackson, Brown’s vertical ability and playmaking acumen could turn him into a true coverage dictator if it all comes together. Jackson’s speed strikes fear into the heart of defenders to such a degree that in his prime, few defenders wanted to dare test him with press man coverage. Despite being a primarily outside receiver, Reception Perception shows that Jackson faced press coverage during 2015 and 2016 at one of the lowest rates in series’ history.
Brown could benefit in a similar fashion. If he was defended this way, facing zone coverage frequently as a flanker and rarely being pressed, he could slice through defenses on a weekly basis.
Another more recent example for Brown to aspire to is Tyreek Hill. While Hill is indeed a true No. 1 receiver, you wouldn’t know it by how teams defend him.
Much like Jackson, Hill’s vertical ability command team’s give him some cushion off the line. Both Hill and Jackson can eat up cushion like this in a flash and offer a simple move at a route break to leave poor defenders in their wake.
Unlike past deep threats or players who started their careers as gadget players, Tyreek Hill graduated to the title of No. 1 receiver because he became an elite route-runner in addition to being the game’s fastest player. Hill’s 81 percent success rate vs press and 74 percent success rate vs. man coverage in 2017 both cleared the 89th percentile. If Brown adds those same details to his route running craft, he could also set his career heights beyond that of a traditional deep threat.
Brown does not have the contested catch game that Hill has as one of the very few players who can earn a Steve Smith comparison. However, he does track the deep ball with the same dog following a frisbee precision that Hill maintains. Another player who fits that description is John Brown, who also checks in under 180 pounds.
In his three healthy seasons, John Brown has posted the following #ReceptionPerception success rates vs. coverage scores:
His 2018 route chart: pic.twitter.com/vbjHPjzNrN
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) March 12, 2019
Whichever team ends up drafting Brown would be wise to use him in the same fashion as Hill. The Chiefs have used Hill in the slot at anywhere from a 30 to 40 percent snap rate and he played off the line on over 60 percent of his snaps in 2017. Using a player like Brown inside and at flanker would only increase his potential to dictate coverages by getting more free releases. The thought should be terrifying for his future NFL opponents if he can perform anywhere close to his pre Lisfranc form.
The fact that we can list players like John Brown, Tyreek Hill and DeSean Jackson who have all found varying levels of success when playing at their peaks as possible outcomes for Marquise Brown is a promising reality. He has hurdles to cross before he takes his first NFL snap but the risk is worth someone investing in him.
Brown shows special ability on film. Full stop. He is a game breaker who can rip apart a defense with several moves after the catch, break down a defensive with unreal speed and can lose them at the line if they dare press him to start the route.
Brown has the potential to be one of the most thrilling players in the game in a few seasons. Anyone who has watched his football career thus far already knows he’s more enthralling than most of his peers in this class. He’s a risk but Marquise Brown has so much to like. Someone needs to invest in searching for the reward.