Almost two months ago when I wrote my Brian O’Neill scouting report, I made the statement: “assigning round grades to draft prospects has become primitive to me.” I feel this way towards that specific part of this process because it’s a critical part of crapshoot narrative that many are inclined to believe the draft process is.
The draft and scouting from an independent evaluator’s perspective is not entirely random and unpredictable. There are a lot of variables and uncontrolled aspects attached to players once they’re in the hands of a team that will shape him into the player he’ll become, but that player will always be built with the same base that you can identify in college, if you know what you’re looking for.
So, what does every evaluator do? Background information is researched, tape is watched, athleticism testing is taken into account, positional value is considered, and boom! A shiny new grade is popped out of the draft machine. This typically looks like “Mid-First” or “Early Day 2” or “3rd Round”. Depending on the evaluator’s clout and reputation, that grade is attached to that player’s name in the minds of who read and buy into the evaluation. The damage has been done, now fast forward four years.
A player who was widely viewed as whatever defines as a “fringe day 1-early day 2 player” is drafted by a team in the first round and is asked to start immediately. The player underwhelms throughout his rookie contract and is viewed as a bust, and a big miss on the evaluator’s part. And thus, the draft is now a crapshoot, like it always was. I can tell this story because I’ve seen it with so many prospects.
Finishing a prospect evaluation by attaching a round grade takes away the science of an evaluation, and just like O’Neill was a great example of this, Orlando Brown is as well.
Potential has to be basis of the conclusion behind every evaluation, and potential has three quality outcomes: All-Pro, Pro Bowl, and Starter. All-Pro and Pro Bowl players are obviously rare in every draft class considering there are well over 200 that hear their name called, but the act of finding not just starters, but long-term starters is also difficult. Long-term starters aren’t 10 year starters, more like 4-5 years, which is still just above the average career length of an NFL player. You can tell which players at every position coming out of college have the production and athleticism of long-term starters, but offensive lineman just have athleticism data to there name. So the process of offensive line evaluation is confirming necessary athleticism through tape.
So when I tell you that Orlando Brown doesn’t have the athleticism of a long-term starter after looking at data from the past 20 years, what does that mean to you? How does that resonate in your mind. Does a round projection immediately leave your tongue?
We can end this article here and the point would’ve been established, but with only looking at data with offensive lineman and drawing conclusions of can also lead to crucial misses for those who’s data is off the charts. There’s a simple relationship the player must have, good athleticism and promising tape. High quality blockers always have both. So why can we feel comfortable writing off Brown as a prospect? Because the film matches the data.
Brown has some fun tape, objectively. He makes me laugh with what his size allows him to do against mere mortal Big 12 edge defenders. But these plays aren’t what we can expect to translate against athletes who know what they’re doing, and know how to work against bad process, which is more a part of Brown’s game than dominating reps.
Being 6-7 340 pounds allowed Brown to simply swallow defenders at times and the rep was just over. But that enormous size didn’t always help and when he had to win with nuance, he was very inconsistent. His hands were erratic, it was difficult for him to play with leverage with how large he was. His footwork was passable in his sets, but he wasn’t really tested with effective speed and explosion that could run the arc in three steps. When he had to react to counters, he was often caught flat footed and not quick enough to react and mirror.
As far as true negative plays, ones where PFF would grade Brown negatively for giving up pressures or whiffing on drive blocks on run plays, there’s not a lot of that in Brown’s film. But it’s not the “production” that always translates to the NFL, it’s the process that always does. Brown’s process is closely reminiscent of Ereck Flowers, the tackle out of Miami and currently the New York Giants. Flowers didn’t have a tumultuous combine performance that Brown had so he maintained his first-round status, and had just as many powerful “fun” reps that had people salivating. But there were still clear signs of ineptitude in his process as a football player, and similar aspects appeared all over Brown’s tape as well.
On athleticism alone, Brown would have to be an outlier if he were to reach 64 starts in his career. On top of that, while he’ll run over a few small defenders from time to time, he’s got a good number of flaws in his game that he’ll have to overcome if he just wants to stay on the field. Brown is not athletic enough to be a starting tackle in the NFL and the film supports this statement, so if you’re looking at someone you would just want as a backup, it’s hard to justify that with a meaningful draft pick.