The Cincinnati Bengals waited a bit longer than expected to draft a running back, but they got a good one in Chase Brown. The Illinois standout has excellent speed, balance, and the strength to break tackles.
Brown was an absolute workhorse for the Illini. Last season, he ran the ball 328 times for 1,643 yards and 10 touchdowns. This includes a 41-carry, 180-yard performance against Minnesota, as well as a 36-carry, 199-yard outing against Indiana.
His experience in pass protection and receiving is somewhat limited, but he has shown potential in both of these areas. He had 27 receptions for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2022.
Let’s start there with a look at Brown as a receiver.
Brown wasn’t asked to do a lot in the passing game, but one route they loved to throw to him was the tailback wheel. This is good because it isn’t simply a check down, it’s a real route, and hauling it in involves a certain about of skill.
In this clip, he runs the wheel out of the backfield and catches the over-the-shoulder pass in stride. This is a fantastic catch.
The Bengals have this in their repertoire, and it could become a bigger part of the offense with Brown in the backfield.
I want to see Chase Brown run this play for the Bengals pic.twitter.com/jnoN2Vr80j— Matt (@CoachMinich) April 29, 2023
This is essentially the same route, but this time it starts with a fake handoff and the quarterback rolling out in the other direction.
Brown is wide open for this throwback pass, but it is thrown short. He makes a nice adjustment and the catch. Even when your quarterback is Joe Burrow, not every pass is going to be perfect.
In this play, Brown shows the ability to read and react to a poorly executed pass and make it a positive play.
Brown has demonstrated soft hands and ball skills and could find his way on the field on third downs, but a big part of that is pass protection. He has shown some promise in that areas, but as we will see in the next clips, consistency is an issue.
I think Chase Brown sees protection pretty well, the issue I have is he tends to catch the rusher like in this first clip instead of attacking him like in the second— Matt (@CoachMinich) May 6, 2023
If he can consistently sell out to make the block, I think he can be pretty good pic.twitter.com/uWo88dxCPK
Too many of Brown’s pass protection reps look like the first clip. He sees the blitz and gets in position, but rather than attack the defender, he merely catches them. He takes the initial blow, but they eventually get by.
Brown needs to do what he does in the second clip more often. Even though the level of difficulty is much higher due to his alignment, he sells out and cuts the defender down with much panache.
See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya!— Matt (@CoachMinich) April 29, 2023
Chase Brown pic.twitter.com/uhnrWJ6UYv
We all love to talk about getting the running back involved in the passing game, but when the coaching staff has been asked what they look for in a running back, their answer was something else: explosive plays. They want a guy who has the speed to create chunk plays on the ground. They got that guy in Brown.
Brown has been called a zone running back, but a lot of his explosive plays come on gap scheme runs like this counter play.
Despite penetration in the backfield on this play, he follows the puller through the hole and makes a nice cut behind the tight end’s block on the linebacker. Then, leaning toward the sideline and away from pursuit, he takes it 49 yards for a touchdown.
This is exactly what the Bengals are looking for.
This is another counter play, but Brown’s footwork is different because he is on the other side of the quarterback (in the previous clip, he was lined up on the play side, in this clip, he is lined up away from the play). He takes a wide path which helps set up the blocks of both pullers, then cuts dramatically up field behind the guard’s kick-out block.
The safety is unblocked and attempts a tackle, but Brown is able to work the ole’ three-legged dog drill, putting one hand down to catch his balance before finishing off the touchdown run. This is an excellent display of balance.
On this play, Brown uses his eyes to set up his cuts and demonstrates excellent balance and agility.
It starts off as a zone run to the right, but Brown cuts it all the way back to the left side. His eyes immediately go to the unblocked, cutback defender. As he closes him, Brown gives him a little shake and takes a hard step to the outside. This makes the would-be tackler unsure and prevents him from attempting a better tackle. Instead, Brown simply has to break an arm tackle as he cuts to the inside.
The wide receiver is blocking the corner into the middle of the field, but Brown doesn’t immediately cut off this block. Instead, he pushed up the field as if he is going to continue down the middle of the field.
The unblocked safety is barring down on him from his deep field zone, but at the last second, Brown cuts dramatically outside the receiver’s block. Because he was patient, he got a two-for-one* on this block.
The safety’s pursuit was thwarted by the receiver’s block on the cornerback. Because of his intelligent running style, Brown turned a 3-yard gain into a 10-yard gain and a 10-yard gain into a 24-yard gain. This is exactly what the Bengals’ offense needs.
*BOGO (Block one, get one)
At 209, Brown comes in near the bottom of the weight requirements for an every-down back, but that doesn’t mean he can’t break tackles.
Contact was made near the line of scrimmage on both of these plays, but in both cases, Brown shook it off and turned a negative play into an explosive run and a touchdown, respectively.
Call Mr. Plow!— Matt (@CoachMinich) April 29, 2023
That’s my name!
That name again is Chase Brown pic.twitter.com/Ah4iF1WyCh
But this run takes the cake. Brown drives his legs and pushes half of the Wisconsin defense five yards down the field.
Brown is an explosive athlete who brings the big-play potential that the Bengals are looking for. He will be an excellent complement to Joe Mixon for now but has the potential to become the Bengals’ feature back.