The Ravens signed wide receiver John Brown to a one-year, $5 million dollar deal this offseason. Brown played the last four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. After two consecutive disappointing seasons, the acquisition of Brown largely flew under the radar.
In 25 games over the past two seasons, Brown caught just 60 passes for 816 yards and five touchdowns. His lack of production can largely be attributed to poor health, however.
In 2016, Brown was diagnosed with a sickle cell trait during the middle of the season. In athletes, this condition tends to slow the healing process of injuries and increase muscle breakdown. Brown only missed one game on the season, but struggled with this condition and hamstring issues throughout the year.
Last season, Brown missed four games due to turf toe and an additional two games because of a quad injury he suffered in training camp. It resulted in the least effective season of his career. He caught 21 receptions for 299 yards, finding the endzone three times.
Poor play and injury history made Brown an afterthought on the free agency market, but Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens were willing to take a chance on him. The early returns have been positive, to say the least.
Brown has been turning heads since arriving in Baltimore. As ESPN reporter Jamison Hensley notes, Brown has been the Ravens’ “best wide receiver” and has quickly become one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets.
John Brown continues to be the best wide receiver in Ravens training camp. He made three more highlight-reel catches from Joe Flacco. The rapport between Brown and Flacco has been evident all summer.
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) August 11, 2018
If the chemistry between Brown and Flacco carries into the regular season, we can expect to see some huge plays. Brown is a established deep threat with a knack for making plays downfield, utilizing his speed to beat defenders. Flacco has long been one of the most dangerous deep-ball throwers in the league, but it has not always translated into results.
Last season, the Ravens were one of the worst teams in the league in terms of vertical passing plays. Flacco’s passer rating on long throws was just 42.3, a poor number for a quarterback with tremendous arm strength. Given their growing chemistry and Brown’s speed, the two could easily become a dangerous tandem.
In 2015, the last time Brown was healthy for almost the entire season, he caught 65 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns. Along with his YPC (yards per catch) average of 15.4, all represent career-high marks. Brown became a fixture in the Cardinals’ offense, and was Carson Palmer’s go-to target after Larry Fitzgerald.
His proficiency as a vertical threat was on display all season. Brown caught a total of eleven passes for 20+ yards, including six that went for 40 yards or more.
The question begs; which John Brown will the Ravens get? If Brown can rekindle his magic from a few seasons ago, he will undoubtedly be a steal for Baltimore. However, it is also possible that he again struggles with injuries and is nothing more than a marginal contributor in the offense.
All signs as of late suggest Brown is healthy and ready to go for the upcoming season. There has been no reports of him suffering any injuries since last season, and Brown himself recently proclaimed that he is past his prior injuries and feels great. Fans can only hope this remains the case throughout the regular season.
Amidst the ever-changing stories and developments that have come out of training camp and practices this offseason, Brown has quietly been one of the few constants. It seems almost everyday new video emerges of Brown beating Ravens defensive backs with ease and making highlight plays.
— PirateLife Football (@PirateLifeFF) July 26, 2018
These plays have become routine at Ravens’ practices. Brown has only taken the field once in preseason action thus far, but made an impressive 17-yard grab over the middle of the field to convert a first down. He looked comfortable with the first-team offense and lined up all over the field.
His play has caught the eyes of his teammates and coaches alike. Fellow newcomer wide receiver Willie Snead called him “electric”, and head coach John Harbaugh recently echoed this praise in a press conference.
"He's been a complete receiver for us."
Coach Harbaugh said that WR John Brown has been even better than advertised. pic.twitter.com/YuKNqWWCuW
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) August 12, 2018
Brown is all but penciled in as the number two receiver in the Ravens offense and projects to line up opposite of Michael Crabtree, with Willie Snead in the slot. Given Crabtree will likely draw the opposing team’s top defensive assignment, Brown will have plenty of opportunities to succeed.
Joe Flacco will look his way early and often, and Brown has the talent to consistently beat man coverage. At 5’11, 178 pounds, Brown has a relatively small build for a receiver. However, his game has never been reliant on his size. His speed and catch radius are how he truly makes an impact.
Brown could potentially have a legitimate shot to lead the team in receiving yards this season. Crabtree and Snead are more of possession targets than true downfield threats, whereas Brown gains the majority of his yardage via vertical passing plays.
Entering his fifth season, the expectations for John Brown are relatively low. So far, however, he has exceeded them significantly. “Smokey” looks primed to make noise this upcoming season and have a big impact in Baltimore.