BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA - NOVEMBER 17: Quarterback Logan Thomas #3 of the Virginia Tech Hokies prepares to throw the ball as linebacker Zach Brown #47 of the North Carolina Tar Heels chases at Lane Stadium on November 17, 2011 in Blacksburg, Virginia.
While reading tonight's edition of Between the Posts, I saw a comment (h/t Father of Zeus) that contained a link to an article praising the Titans and their selection of Zach Brown, calling him a steal in the second round. Brown joined a group of highly drafted defensive UNC players that seem to have sprung up over the past few years a couple of weeks ago as the Titans made him the fifty-second overall pick. The pick caused mostly mixed reactions. Doubters see an inconsistent tackler who doesn't always utilize great technique and some red flags with his character. Supporters see the second coming of Navarro Bowman: a raw, but still productive, incredibly athletic player who slipped in the draft because of reported attitude issues. I see something closer to the latter.
Those of you who read regularly should know by now that I personally hate to play psychologist on these people that I've never met, but that's what I'm about to do. You should also know that I hate anecdotal evidence, but I'm about to use it. I play football. I have played football since I was eleven years old and have played team sports since I was old enough to walk. When a player has an attitude problem, you want to deal with it by being firm with him. Not unreasonably harsh, but not enabling either. Just law down the laws and enforce them. No need for the yelling and screaming and no need to encourage the behavior hoping that he'll just "grow out of it." Mike Munchak strikes me as a kind of guy who specializes in this kind of discipline. He's quiet, but commands respect. Based on personal experience, that's exactly what some with Brown's (alleged) problems needs. In the long run, I don't think that it will be an issue. His problem has never been on-field effort and he seems to be clean off the field. That's good news for the Titans and bad news for the rest of the NFL because Brown is bringing a lot to the table.
Consider just how rare of an athlete this guy is.
Before the 2011 season, Brown was clocked at an unofficial 4.28 in his 40 yard dash. That's basically CJ2K speed right there. That's cop speed. Of course, it was unofficial, but you can't argue that this is one very, very fast dude. He'd make most NFL defensive backs blush with his speed. I hear the word "undersized" thrown around a lot, but Derrick Brooks made it work with less size and similar speed. Undersized means less when you can fly to the ball like Brown. His 40 speed wasn't just a weird outlier either, this is a guy who shattered records at UNC in the 60 yard dash and won Maryland (!) state titles in the 100 and 200 meter dash back in high school. Before you knock it, understand that players like Darius Heyward-Bey, drafted entirely for his speed, and Vernon Davis, probably one of the most athletically gifted players in the NFL, also came from the Old Line State. Yes, I am aware that high school track speed isn't necessarily relevant to NFL career trajectories, but the point stands, Zach Brown is fast. However well he uses that in coverage varies from time to time, but I think proper coaching should be able to iron that out as he clearly has the ability to run with the tight ends in the NFL. Consider that he draped Colts third round draftee and former Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen like a blanket when he was on him in their October matchup. Mike Martin has made it clear that everyone on MCM loves former wrestlers playing football. Well, Brown did that too. In fact, he excelled at it, taking down wrestlers who outweighed him by 50 or 60 pounds. He says that wrestling helped him learn how to shed blocks and stay in great shape back in high school. Gotta love the wrasslers.
He's not just a raw athlete either. Brown was an incredibly productive linebacker, registering 105 tackles, 13.5 TFL, and 5.5 sacks. All this while missing a game due to injury. He also picked off three passes and forced three fumbles. In the same mold as Akeem Ayers last year, the man just makes plays. While he could easily slide inside to play MLB, I have no problem with him playing on the outside either. This linebacker corp is about to be a very scary unit. Brown is just a different breed and I, for one, cannot wait to see him play. Will Witherspoon is on the roster for the time being, but there is no doubt in my mind that Brown sees at the very least some special teams time and an increased role in the defense as the season goes on. He's projected as a 3-down backer down the road, I expect to see him flash some of the skills that earn him that title this year. Much like Kendall Wright, this pick was one that had to be fully digested. Brown is, according to some, a first round talent and ultimately, the NFL Draft is about finding the best players left. There were some bigger names left and this front office has always been a little bit unorthodox, but I dare you to argue with their results. Brown, with his unheard of athleticism, could end up being a tremendously underrated value pick. It may be cliché to say this lately, but if the guys upstairs in the FO trust this pick, then I trust it too. Until they actually screw up, these guys have earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to taking a risk like Brown.