It’s understandable if you didn’t know that Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown was the No. 1 high school recruit in 2009. Frequently compared to Barry Sanders, he was ranked ahead of both Matt Barkley and Trent Richardson. In 2009, every college football team wanted Brown. In 2012, no professional football team wanted him.
What happened? He committed to Tennessee where he rushed for 460 yards as a true freshman. But inevitably, Brown could not live up to the lofty expectations that he set in high school. Never fashioning himself as a true “student-athlete,” his college career never got off the ground. He transferred to Kansas State where sat out his sophomore year and then ran the ball just three times for 13 yards in his final college season. His 13 total college games were just enough to qualify for the NFL Draft. Without a robust collegiate resume, he was selected by the Eagles in the seventh round of the 2012 draft as a developmental back.
Brown arrived in Philadelphia more game-ready than would be expected from such an inexperienced running back. While Brown seemed to lack ambition at the college level, he showed the Eagles that he desperately wants to be great at the pro level. 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 technique. Other than his well-documented ball security issues, his passion, work ethic and overall athleticism convinced Eagles coaches to pencil him in as the team’s No. 2 running back in 2012.
Brown does indeed have some Barry Sanders in his game. 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 the league. 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-pounds, 4.33-40 time
Knile Davis, 227-pounds, 4.37
Adrian Peterson, 217-pounds, 4.40
Lamar Miller, 216-pounds, 4.40
DeMarco Murray, 219-pounds, 4.41
Ben Tate, 217-pounds, 4.43
Ryan Mathews, 220-pounds, 4.45
Rashard Mendenhall, 225-pounds, 4.45
Matt Forte, 218-pounds, 4.46
Marshawn Lynch, 215-pounds, 4.46
Bryce Brown, 223-pounds, 4.48
Jonathan Stewart, 235-pounds, 4.48
Andre Brown, 227-pounds, 4.49
Bernard Pierce, 218-pounds, 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.
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 minus-952 yards is a record that may never be broken.
Brown has the potential to become a violent downhill finisher who can catch defenders off-guard on any play with his breakaway speed – a truly terrifying weapon for opposing teams to defend. Though he remains parked behind LeSean McCoy on the depth chart, Brown is on the verge of being transformed from a developmental running back into one of the league’s most vicious combinations of speed and power.