Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown has always been in a hurry. Though he was no. 1 high school recruit in 2009 (ahead of Matt Barkley and Trent Richardson), he never fashioned himself as an “student-athlete”. After appearing in 13 college games, he hurried to enter the NFL Draft. Without a robust collegiate resume, he was selected in the seventh round in 2012 as a developmental back.
Upon arriving in Philadelphia, Brown demonstrated a passionate, aggressive running style. After a handful of dazzling-yet-fumble-prone performances in 2012, expectations were high entering the 2013 season.
Rather than developing into a regular change-of-pace option for Chip Kelly, Brown’s 2013 fantasy season was, by all accounts, a disappointment due to circumstances outside his control. LeSean McCoy never missed a start and didn’t take many carries off on his way to an NFL-leading 1,607 rushing yards.
A more detailed analysis of Brown’s production reveals a running back who is more than just a valuable fantasy handcuff. Brown came to Philadelphia as one of the least experienced running backs to ever enter the NFL. Since arriving at the Eagles’ facility as an unformed ball of clay, he has compiled 878 yards (at 4.6 yards per attempt) and six touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Watch Brown, and you will see a running back who desperately wants to be great. His effort on the field has never been questioned since arriving in the NFL, and he has diligently worked to fix the flaws in his game. Brown excites Eagles coaches because he possesses a very rare combination of second-level speed, strength, balance and lateral agility that comes along once every five years. His natural ability simply cannot be coached, and his ceiling is as high as any running back in fantasy football.
Brown’s speed is truly uncommon for a man of his size. Here is a list of NFL running backs who weigh more than 215 pounds and have run a sub-4.5 40 yard dash:
Darren McFadden, 218 lbs, 4.33-40 time
Knile Davis, 227 lbs, 4.37
Adrian Peterson, 217 lbs, 4.40
Lamar Miller, 216 lbs, 4.40
DeMarco Murray, 219 lbs, 4.41
Ben Tate, 217 lbs, 4.43
Ryan Mathews, 220 lbs, 4.45
Rashard Mendenhall, 225 lbs, 4.45
Matt Forte, 218 lbs, 4.46
Marshawn Lynch, 215 lbs, 4.46
Bryce Brown, 223 lbs, 4.48
Jonathan Stewart, 235 lbs, 4.48
Andre Brown, 227 lbs, 4.49
Bernard Pierce, 218 lbs, 4.49
Clearly, few running backs possess Brown’s combination of speed and size, and even fewer are capable of ripping off the impressive runs that Brown did in his first 190 carries. Those 190 carries are a key part of the fantasy sleeper equation, because the best dynasty league prospects are young players who possess rare physical attributes, look impressive on film and have small career sample sizes.
The primary criticism of Brown is a maddening propensity to bounce runs to the outside. This resulted in 15 carries for a loss out of 75 attempts. Losing yardage 20 percent of the time is an incredibly high ratio. This criticism resonates particularly well because at 223 pounds, Brown has the strength and power to effectively run between the tackles.
However, Brown’s run-bouncing is likely a function of his youth and inexperience. As an aggressive running back who is still learning the nuances of the position, it is understandable that he would want to hit a home run on every carry. It is also comforting to know that none other than Barry Sanders holds the NFL record for negative yardage. His 336 carries for -952 yards is a record that may never be broken.
If McCoy leaves the Eagles, or is injured, in the years ahead, Brown would carry the load. His best games were not those where he came in for a couple snaps and took the defense off guard by breaking a long run. Rather, his two fantasy-relevant performances in 2013 came when he approached 20 carries and rushed for 178 yards in one game and 169 yards in the other. When on the field regularly, Brown finds a rhythm with the Eagles’ offensive line and often breaks long runs.
Fantasy football dynasty leagues are won by stockpiling players with Brown’s high ceiling. Moreover, post-hype sleepers like Brown who have disappointing fantasy owners in previous years, are often available at a discount on draft day. Though his fantasy football draft stock is trending in the wrong direction, Brown is actually on the verge of being transformed from a developmental running back into one of the league’s most vicious combinations of speed and power.