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Film Room: Jordan Brown has playmaking ability the Bengals’ secondary needs

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Rookie cornerback Jordan Brown has a knack for getting his hands on the ball.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

With their final pick in the 2019 NFL Draft the Bengals selected South Dakota State University cornerback Jordan Brown. This marks the second year in a row that the Bengals have spent a Day 3 pick on a Missouri Valley Conference cornerback, after selecting Davontae Harris from Illinois State in the fifth round of 2018 Draft.

This was interesting because cornerback is probably the team’s deepest position. On top of drafting Harris and Darius Phillips last year, they signed B.W. Webb and brought back Darqueze Dennard.

If the Bengals drafted Brown despite their depth at the position, they must think pretty highly like him. He was impressive in one-on-ones during Senior Bowl week, but had a couple of hiccups during the game. Still, it was evident that he was well coached and had the athletic ability to compete against best of the best.

A deep dive into Brown’s senior film reveals a lot of upside.

Man Coverage

Brown spent a fair amount of his time in press man coverage. This slow-motion clip is a good example. Rather than jamming the receiver with his hands, he slides back keeping his hips square. This gives him time and a small cushion to read the receiver. When the receiver releases to the outside, Brown swings his inside hand around. This helps to open up his hips and makes for a smooth transition. Brown gets into great position, right on the inside hip of the wide receiver.

In this clip, the receiver once again releases to the outside. Brown slides back and whips his hips around to get into phase with the receiver. Notice where Brown’s eyes are pointing. He is focused on the hips of the receiver. This will allow Brown to anticipate any cuts and maintain his position between the quarterback and the receiver.

Watch as Brown puts it all together here. The receiver releases to the outside and Brown brings his inside hand to the receiver’s hips. He follows his hand with his eyes, which allows him to see the receiver lowers his hips indicating that he is about to make a cut. Anticipating the cut, Brown moves almost in tandem with the receiver. Notice how he once again brings his off hand as he turns, helping him to transition. This is a great rep for Brown and shows that he is well-versed in man coverage technique.

Here Brown is in loose man coverage on the bottom of the screen. The receiver motions in closer to the tight end and runs a drag route as the tight end releases vertically. The route combination and alignment creates a natural pick, but Brown does not allow himself to be picked. He does a great job of breaking over the top of the tight end and linebacker and closing the space between him and the receiver quickly.

The offense has two receivers bunched to the top of the screen, so South Dakota State counters with one defender in press man and Brown in loose man. The receiver appears to be running a quick out route and Brown breaks towards him. More precisely, Brown breaks towards his down-field shoulder. Because of this detail, Brown is still in good position, when the receiver turns up field. He is able to turn and run stride for stride as the receiver heads deep down the field.

Zone Coverages

One of the big advantages of playing zone coverage is being able to help out in adjacent zones. In this clip Brown lines up on the line of scrimmage and physically jams the receiver on snap which forces an inside release. He then sinks off and reads the quarterback. When he reads the quarterback’s indicators and sees that the ball is going to the gap between him and the safety, he turns and runs underneath the intended receiver. As the ball approaches, he leaps into the air and knocks it down.

Unlike the previous clip where his initial responsibility was to jam the receiver, here Brown is a deep field player and free to read the quarterback right away. The ball goes quickly to the receiver hitching in front of him. Brown gets a fast break and hits the receiver shortly after the ball gets there. Brown has the quickness to close space quickly, which is big when he is playing loose and teams attempt to take what they are given.

On this play Brown is responsible for the deep outside fourth zone. The receiver presses him vertically. Brown starts in a backpedal, but quickly turns and runs, matching the receiver stride for stride. When the receiver turns to look for the ball, Brown turns and defects it. Brown was all over this deep route from start to finish.

Playing the Ball

He made a great play on the ball in the clip above, but that is a regular occurrence for Brown. In his time at South Dakota State he had eight interceptions and 35 passes defended. He has very good ball skills and is a truly aggressive player who is not afraid to trust his keys and break for the football.

In the clip below he sees the quarterback set up and point his shoulder to the receiver in front of him. By the time the quarterback has taken his hand off of the ball, Brown is already breaking on the quick out. He comes underneath the route and picks it off.

Brown makes a lot of plays on quick outs and hitches even when playing in a deep field zone or loose man coverage. Playing this aggressively can sometimes get a player in trouble, and Brown has been guilty of biting on a hitch-and-go from time to time.

Here is an example. As the receiver lowers his hips and chops his feet, Brown starts to break expecting a hitch. With Brown’s weight shifted forward, the receiver takes off vertically and has a huge cushion. Impressively, Brown never looks for the ball. Too many defensive backs will turn and look for the ball when they have been beat in coverage. This is counter-productive because A) if they are not near the receiver the ball will not be thrown close enough for them to make a play on it, and B) turning their head slows them down thus increasing the receiver’s separation,

Brown shows great speed to catch up to the receiver just after the ball arrives and make the tackle. Aggressive players will sometimes give up big plays, but hustling can prevent big plays from becoming touchdowns make the risk worthwhile for the defense.

Brown is always looking to make a play on the ball. In this clip the receiver releases to the inside initially, then whips back outside. Brown is positioned inside the receiver but fights to get to where he can knock down the ball. The second clip is a close up of Brown knocking the ball down with one hand while securing the tackle with the other.

Tackling

Many people don’t realize the importance of tackling from the cornerback position. Modern offenses often look to get to the ball into the hands of their receivers quickly and let them make plays on slips screens, bubbles, or other short passes.

Think about it this way: If a defensive lineman misses a tackle, there is likely a linebacker not far behind and if he misses the tackle the defensive backs will have a chance to make the play, but if the defensive back misses there is no one behind him. So in a way, it is more important for defensive backs to be able to tackle than any other position.

In this clip, Brown is responsible for the bubble by the No. 2 receiver. He attacks it without hesitation and sheds the attempted block by the No. 1 receiver on his way to tackling the receiver for a loss.

In this condensed formation, Brown is responsible for holding the edge against the run. When the ball is tossed in his direction, he steps up and takes on the tight end’s block forcing the cutback. If the runner made it to the edge, it would have been a big gain for the offense. This is not something that will appear on any stat sheet, but is an important/unselfish play that forced the ball carrier inside where Brown’s teammates could make the tackle for a short gain.

This is another example of Brown understanding his role in the defense. He is not initially responsible for the edge and is a pass-first player, but when the receiver blocks down on the safety, his role changes. This is termed: crack/replace. Now that the safety has been blocked, the cornerback takes on his role in the run game. Brown comes down quickly and is able to get involved in the tackle.

Cornerbacks are generally pass-first players. They will only respond to the run when one of two things happens: 1) the ball crosses the line of scrimmage or 2) receivers are blocking physically down field. Until one of those two things happens there is still a chance that it could be a play action, flea-flicker, or toss pass.

When these receivers start blocking downfield, Brown disengages from the stalk block and flies inside with authority to clean up the tackle.

Here the receiver never actually blocks on Brown and making it look like a stalk-n-go so Brown is correct to stay with him until the ball crosses the line of scrimmage. When the ball carrier breaks free, he is the first to engage on the tackle and is able to bring the runner down with the help of a drove of Jackrabbits.


Brown is a playmaker with great athletic ability and excellent technique. His knack for making a play on the ball could be what sets him apart and helps him to establish himself within this Bengals secondary.

By the time final cuts come around, it shouldn’t be surprising to see Brown sticking around.