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Evaluating Bryce Brown

Dec 3, 2012, 5:34 PM EDT

He’s eclipsed 160 yards rushing in each of the last two
games. He’s drawn comparisons to the explosive Bo Jackson. Suddenly the Eagles
have options with respect to their backfield, specifically LeSean McCoy, who
signed a five-year contract worth $45 million over the summer.

There is no doubt rookie runner Bryce Brown is bursting with
talent. That’s why the front office took a seventh-round flyer on a kid who
carried the ball just 104 times during a tumultuous collegiate career. But is
Brown really a star in the making, a silver lining in this darkest of seasons,
or are we seriously overreacting after two NFL starts?

Here’s what we know right now: Brown is a naturally-gifted
running back that possesses 4.4 speed in a six-foot, 223-lb. frame, making him
both difficult to catch and to bring down. He can catch the ball out of the
backfield. He is a willing blocker. In many respects, Brown looks like the
total package.

Where I draw the line is that we already know definitively
that this kid is the real deal. As impressive as these recent performances have
been, it is far too early to anoint Brown the next big thing. He certainly has raw
ability, but at this point, there are still more questions than answers.

Small sample size

Two games. Two outstanding games, but only two games
nonetheless. I’m not sure what the exact number of carries is before I become completely
convinced, but I’m not there yet. My apprehension probably has a lot to do with
a specific black mark on these breakthrough performances.

Ball security

As has been well documented, Brown has put the ball on the
turf three times in these last two games, which in my mind overshadows – if not
erases – a great deal of what he accomplished. He lost two against the Panthers
last week, which were converted for three points, but also ended a drive in
Carolina territory, and of course the fumbles against the Cowboys was returned
for the decisive touchdown.

In no way are we laying the blame for either loss on a
rookie running back, but we can all count. Those points would’ve helped. Look
no further than the Eagles’ last two seasons to see how closely turnovers
correlate to wins and losses. The fact is, Brown can run for 6.5 yards per
carry for the rest of his life, but if he coughs up the rock once every 14
carries, he can’t be a primary back in the NFL, or at any level.

We’ve seen notable backs Tiki Barber and Ahman Green get
over their fumbling issues, but in both cases it took years. Brown might be
worth the wait, but a lot can happen between now and whenever he learns to hold
on to the football.


Another reason I’m not getting too amped up over the last
two games: consider who they have played. Carolina is ranked 25th in
the NFL against the run, and Dallas tumbled all the way to 18th
after Sunday night – plus the Cowboys have been hammered by injuries.

Does that detract from Brown’s efforts? No, but the
information is relevant. Most backs are experiencing greater success against
the Panthers, and increasingly the Cowboys as well. Let’s see what Brown can do
against even an average run defense, let alone a good one.

Improved offensive

It is worth noting that before Brown relieved McCoy, who is
out with a concussion, the All-Pro back was not having his best season. Shady
was averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and managed to cross the goal line just
twice through 10 games. Much of the blame can be heaped on the offensive line,
which has been decimated by injuries, none more integral to the running game
than the loss of left tackle Jason Peters. Philadelphia averaged over seven
yards per attempt on off-tackle runs to the left in 2011.

Yet all of a sudden, Brown is running wild, averaging 6.5
yards per carry, and scoring four touchdowns. McCoy’s long run on the season is
34 yards, Brown’s is 65. So if the line is so terrible, how is it the new guy
is able to find so much space?

Believe it or not, one of the answers might be the offensive
line has been improving. They’re not at the point where anybody should get
excited, but some recent changes are starting to pan out, particularly on the
right side. Fifth-rounder Dennis Kelly moved to tackle after the injury to Todd
Herremans, and looks more competent there than he did at guard. Veteran Jake
Scott was signed off the street a month ago and quickly pushed Danny Watkins
out of his job, whether he was injured or whatever.

The combination is working, so who knows, perhaps McCoy
would have or will look better behind the new look as well. Brown might be
benefitting from good timing.


My concerns extend beyond what Brown has done on the field
the last couple weeks. How did the Eagles come to find this gem of a player in
the seventh round of the draft?

The short answer is he left Tennessee for some reason after
one season, and then quit the team at Kansas State apparently after a dispute
over playing time. He was involved with several NCAA investigations during his
time in college football. Lots of question marks there. I haven’t seen or heard
anything during his time in Philadelphia that would lead me to believe the kid
has a bad attitude or is a problem of any kind, but his strange past ought to
make you wonder.

Putting it all

Everything I’ve seen of Brown dating back to the preseason
tells me he has the ability to be a number one back in the NFL, but let’s slow
down. There are enough potential issues here to be worried what we are seeing
could be a flash in the pan.

Plus, how quickly we forget the Eagles already have a star
running back in their employ. Lest you forget, here are the numbers Shady McCoy
piled up just a season ago: 1,309 rushing yards (4th), 5.2 yards per
attempt (4th), 1,674 yards from scrimmage (4th), 20 total
TD (1st).  Obviously that’s
not a knock on Brown, nor does it mean he can’t be useful, but the Eagles are
paying McCoy a ton of money to carry the load, so I suspect he will resume his
role whenever he’s ready to go.

It’s a good problem to have. McCoy is locked up, Brown is
under contract through 2015, and he can’t even receive an extension until the
final year of his rookie deal, so there is plenty of time to let Brown’s
trajectory play out. He’s off to an amazing start, but there is much work still
to be done.