The Cardinals' selection of wide receiver John Brown came as a surprise to many. The announcement of the 91st pick of the 2014 NFL Draft was likely met with more quizzical glances than elated applause, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a good one.
As we've discussed in the past, head coach Bruce Arians has a type of wide receiver that he likes. He covets shorter, speedier players and has had great success with them in the past. If you find that to be dubious, check out the link in the opening of this paragraph. Once that's out of the way, a quick Googling will reveal that Brown fits the archetype perfectly, but I'll save you the trouble of searching yourself.
John Brown Height: 5'10" Weight: 179 Combine 40 yard dash: 4.34 KR?: Yes Selected when?: 91st pick (3rd round) Home State: Florida
— Kent Hodder (@kenthodder) May 10, 2014
T.Y. Hilton Height: 5'10" Weight: 180 Combine 40 yard dash: 4.34 KR?: Yes Selected when?: 92nd pick (3rd round) Home State: Florida
— Kent Hodder (@kenthodder) May 10, 2014
T.Y. Hilton, as you may be aware, was a star in Arians' offense while he was coaching the Indianapolis Colts but there have been other hand-picked success stories: Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, for example.
John fits the profile with the size and speed that Arians knows how to use, but plenty of receivers fit the mold physically. Brandin Cooks, a wide receiver from Oregon State who was available when the Cardinals traded away the 20th pick, measures in at 5'10 and ran a 4.33 at the NFL Scouting Combine. The New Orleans Saints actually traded with the Cardinals' for the 20th overall selection so that they could take Cooks in that spot! We can't know how the Cards rated their board but it's possible Cooks would have been a player they were considering in that range. They liked the idea of moving a few spots back and acquiring an extra third round pick more. Another comparable player, Paul Richardson, was selected by the Seahawks with the 45th pick, before the Cardinals' next selection.
Two more players cast from the same mold, Josh Huff from Oregon and Dri Archer of Kent State, were selected at the end of the third round, in the neighborhood of the Cardinals' John Brown pick. Like Brown, both players were projected to be drafted on day three rather than day two. Other, more highly rated prospects like Robert Herron and Bruce Ellington, were still available. Why Brown? What made the Cardinals choose an unheralded player from Division II ahead of his rivals?
It might help to better understand his character. He was a three-year team captain for the Pittsburg State Gorillas, an honor keenly noted by Arizona brass who spent all nine of their 2013 draft selections on players elected to be captains by their respective teams. He is a driven player, with a tragic personal tie to the game that he carries with him as motivation.
John Brown: The Name Behind #5 (via pittstateathletics)
Fantastic athlete, respected teammate and leader, driven: check, check and check. The case is building but can he play? Try and find him on Youtube and you're more likely to come up with a video of Cooks, Huff or any other of his peers, but the word is out there if you seek it. You can watch some of his highlights at Hudl.
Brown initially appeared on the national radar at the 2014 East-West Shrine Game where he was a daily stand-out. From Eric Galko of OptimumScouting.com:
Best receiver once again today was Pittsburgh State’s John Brown... he repeated displayed route precision in deeper breaking routes, which is what he’s being used mostly as during team and 7v7 reps. Cutting smoothly yet on a tight line, Brown has obvious focus and experience on his route development, and is able to get natural and non-quickness related separation. If it wasn’t for small hands (8.5 inches), he may be worth talking about in the mid rounds.
John Brown... thoroughly impressed once again. Today, he (and all of the receivers), got the chance to go one-on-one with defensive backs in the red zone... Brown repeatedly beat his man, both safeties and cornerbacks. He won on an inside-out fade in the back corner, and two stutter steps outside-in that left his defender on the ground. Brown could easily make a case for himself as the best receiver at the Shrine Game, that’s how impressive he was all week.
Nuanced route-runners are rare coming out of college but unheard of from Division II players -- and it's not like Brown didn't have enough athletic talent to coast through relatively weak competition, either. A thorough pre-draft report at GangGreenNation notes the primary knock against Brown is the level of competition he faced, being from a DII school.
An undisputed playmaker on both offense and special teams, Brown scored 45 touchdowns in 34 starts. As a senior wide receiver, his 61 catches for nearly 1,200 yards were impressive but his 14 touchdowns were more so. He averaged 32.5 yards per kickoff return his senior year, an average that would have placed him second among Division I players.
In addition to his ability to stretch the field with speed, Bruce Arians notes his fearlessness going over the middle, another attribute that adds to his potential as a mainstay in the slot, a position lacking depth for the team.
NFL.com likes his speed both on the field and in shorts along with his hands and burst. They note he has experience as a gunner on special teams as well. Not only will he provide depth and competition as a returner but he may be able to put an end to the days of signing any free agent who has ever run a 4.3 to be a gunner for a week.
By selecting John Brown when and where they did, the Cardinals' decision-makers gave us a brief glimpse at their values and their board. Many comparable players may have been available, but none offered the total package of physical ability, mental composition and locker room merits that tempted Arizona into making Brown their next weapon of choice.