Could Jonathan Brown Be the Next Illinois Linebacking Great?

By Derek Helling
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown is playing the final season of a very successful career. He is following in the footsteps of Illini linebacking greats like Dick Butkus, Ray Nitchske, Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice. The question that looms larger with every passing week is whether or not Brown is ready to contribute to an NFL team and if he’ll be selected by one come May.

Brown certainly has accolades to boast. In 2011, he ranked sixth in the Big Ten in tackles. His 19.5 tackles for loss were good for second in the Big Ten and sixth in all of FBS. Those numbers put Brown on the (Ronnie) Lott Impact Trophy Watch List for 2012, a season in which despite missing three full games and most of a fourth due to injury, he still led the Illini in tackles for loss and was a Butkus Award finalist and received All-Big Ten Honorable Mention.

So far this season, he leads the Big Ten in total tackles with 60 and is tied for second in the conference with 1.5 sacks. His 12 total tackles per game average is good for fifth in the nation. His stock could be hurt by the rest of the defense he is playing on though. As a unit, the Illini defense ranks 102nd in FBS, allowing an average of 449.8 total yards of offense per game to its opponents.

Experienced NFL scouts will be able to see through the poor performance of the players around him and value Brown’s combination of instincts and intelligence. Brown is a linebacker who can read a formation and who has that natural ability to position himself in the right spots to make stops. There are no concerns about his tackling, and it seems that his shoulder injury problems are in the past.

The 6-foot-1, 230 pound senior from Memphis, TN has good athleticism and quickness, but can get caught up in traffic at times; and like most linebackers, he will struggle to cover a lot of running backs and wide receivers in the NFL purely out of the speed difference. He is not a pass rushing threat, as he has amassed just 10.5 sacks in 38 games thus far in his career.

Brown would fit best into a system that has quality edge rushers and block-eating defensive linemen, but is looking for a run-stuffer in its interior linebacker spots.

If Brown can stay healthy and continue to perform, he will be among the career leaders in tackles at Illinois, and that’s not a group of unknowns. While he is not a first-round impact player, he will be well worth a second-day pick by some team that is looking to add depth at inside linebacker.

Derek Helling is a writer for Follow him on Twitter, “like” him on Facebook and add him on Google+.

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