Chris Brown enters his senior season in South Bend, still looking to build on a magical start. When the lanky South Carolina native arrived on campus, he was a designated deep threat — used to perfection against Oklahoma on one of the season’s defining plays.
His career hasn’t lived up to that moment, and last year’s promising campaign had a few bad ones as well (let’s just say Brown isn’t going to be handling any more jet sweep carries at the goal line). But 39 catches and 548 yards are a season to build on, and word out of spring practice showcased a different type of player, one likely with a sense of urgency.
An elite track and field athlete—Brown would’ve won the Big East’s Triple Jump title as a high school junior—there’s a lot to like about the South Carolina native. So let’s take a look at what to expect from the veteran leader of the wide receiving corps.
6’1.5″ 195 lbs.
Senior, No. 2, WR
His senior season was shortened by injuries, but Brown’s athleticism was displayed on the track, a national record setter in the triple jump and a 10.8 100-meter dash. He was viewed as a three-star prospect, but Notre Dame beat out home state South Carolina and Steve Spurrier for Brown’s signature and he took an official visit to Alabama, and Kelly wasn’t shy about his belief in Brown on Signing Day.
“If we were talking from an NFL standpoint and I was the general manager after draft day, we would consider this young man a steal of the draft,” Kelly said on Signing Day 2012. “We believe he has a skill set that we do not have currently on this football team.”
Freshman Season (2012): Saw action in all 12 games. Started two. First catch of his career was a 50-yarder against Oklahoma. Also made a six-yard grab against Wake Forest.
Sophomore Season (2013): Started four games while appearing in all 13. Season-long catch of 40-yards against Purdue. Caught his first touchdown against Air Force. Totaled 15 catches for 209 yards and one touchdown.
Junior Season (2014): Started 11 of 13 games last season, putting up career high in catches and yards. Had nine catches of 20 yards or longer. Had career best 82 yards on two catches against Navy.
WHAT WE PROJECTED LAST YEAR
I was skeptical that Brown was ready to take the leap last season and I turned out to be mostly right, especially considering DaVaris Daniels’ absence opened things up for Brown.
This prediction is completely dependent on a few key variables: First, the explosiveness that we’re hoping to see from the Irish offense in 2014, namely quarterback Everett Golson’s ability to hit big plays down the field. If that’s the case, then expect Brown to be one of the main beneficiaries.
Secondly, it’s dependent on Brown cleaning up his game. In a stable of sure-handed pass catchers, Brown stood out for a few careless drops. There was also the end zone interception against Pitt where Brown wasn’t competitive on the route. Those types of things are fatal in a Brian Kelly offense, and will get you taken off the field.
Perhaps we were expecting too much from Brown early, the product of remembering one singular play in a season where he only made two catches. Brown played his best in the Pinstripe Bowl, rebounding from the disappointment against Pitt and capitalizing on the opportunity after a month of practice.
I’m not entirely convinced that Brown is any better than the fourth receiver in this offense, and that doesn’t take into consideration slot players C.J. Prosise and Amir Carlisle. But if this offense runs optimally, there should be catches and touchdowns to go around, for Daniels, Fuller, Robinson and Brown.
We’ll know if the resurgent spring was coachspeak and the bowl game simply a data point come this fall. But Brown is the type of player that the Irish are counting on to help them score points, so his ascent could be crucial in 2014.
I think Brown turned his game around in 2014 after some early season struggles, becoming a key piece of the outside receiving game, pretty much pairing with Corey Robinson opposite Will Fuller. He made a big catch against LSU and played pretty well against USC in blowout circumstances.
Call me crazy, but there’s still plenty of upside for Brown. This is a big, strong, fast kid, who only just now has started to play big, strong and fast. And while I’ll be a fool to fall for it, talking with Jac Collinsworth—pretty much the only media member who had a look at every spring practice—he couldn’t stop raving about the performances he saw from Brown in practice.
I still think Chris Brown has NFL potential as a receiver, especially when he runs a 4.4 and jumps out of the gym at pro day. But if he can’t shake the inconsistency that’s defined his game so far in his senior season, than it’s never going to happen.
We’ve watched veterans step forward under Brian Kelly and play very good football. And I actually believe this is going to happen with Brown. Will Fuller has nowhere to hide next season, as defenses are going to be hyperaware of his spot on the field before every snap. So that should automatically lead to some preferred matchups for Brown, situations he needs to win.
We’ve watched Brown fail to make the big play—a critical fumbled last year at the goal line, getting beat out for a ball in the end zone during Notre Dame’s loss to Pitt in 2013. But we also saw him climb the ladder to convert a big 3rd down against LSU, and break off big chunks of yardage when given the opportunity.
TJ Jones went from a 649 yard junior season to a ridiculous 1,108, nine-touchdown senior year. I’m not predicting that type of output for Jones—I just don’t think he’s going to get the touches. But at the same time, I think a eight touchdown, 800-yard season is in the cards, with a 15-plus-yard-per-catch average happening.