INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL doesn’t draft players based primarily on scouting combine drills anymore – it’s been 23 years since Mike Mamula – but exceptionally poor results, like those posted by Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown, raise questions with teams.
Brown, son of the late Orlando “Zeus” Brown, arrived in Indianapolis projected as a mid-first-round talent, despite some rough edges. Those projections seemed to get a boost when the prospects were weighed and measured. Brown clocked in at 6-7.8, 345 pounds, which is enormous, even by 2018 NFL standards. His 35-inch arms and 88.5-inch wingspan also were nearly off the charts.
That was pretty much the highlight of Brown’s combine, however. A day after the weighing and measuring, he managed only 14 bench-press reps, a very low number for a supposedly elite prospect. He followed that up with a painful-to-watch 40 performance, 5.86 seconds, in which his unrefined, straight-up-and-down stance almost gave the illusion he was running in place. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock deemed it “historically bad.”
.@MikeMayock's #2 ranked OT in this class.
— NFL (@NFL) March 2, 2018
Brown spoke with reporters right after the bench press, but before the 40, saying that he “didn’t stick to my breathing routine. “
“That’s the lowest I have ever done, and I’ll redo it at my [March 14] pro day,” he said.
Asked if he thought the bench-press result would be held against him in the draft, Brown said: “Keeping it real, it will be held against me.
“All my numbers will be held against me. As an offensive tackle, my numbers are going to be compared to other offensive tackles. That’s just the reality of it.”
Given that Brown, a seemingly intelligent, extremely articulate player, understands all that, evaluators have to wonder what the heck is going on. You don’t necessarily have to be great at the bench press to keep pass rushers away from a quarterback, and Brown probably won’t have to outrun anyone for 40 yards in the NFL (though he will have to run 10 yards, and the full 2.0 seconds he needed to do that might be a real problem).
But the late-winter Indianapolis interlude is the NFL’s version of a job interview. Brown played at Oklahoma; he knows lots of guys who have been through this process. You don’t show up for a job interview in a wrinkled suit and flip-flops, and you don’t show up at the NFL scouting combine looking as if you haven’t ever done any of this stuff before, and didn’t know there would be a test.
NFL teams do care, very much, about how passionate and dedicated you are. That tends to be more of a predictor of success than wingspan.
Brown’s background is unusual. He grew up around NFL locker rooms, in Cleveland and Baltimore. He talked at the combine of spending time around “Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis, Ed Reed, Alan Ricard, Priest Holmes, guys like that.” He spoke of how other kids would give him pictures of Ray Lewis to get signed, and he would keep the pictures.
Asked if he considered playing something other than offensive tackle, given the tall task he faced, measuring up to his father’s 11-year NFL career, Brown said he had not. “I’ve been fat my whole life,” he said. “I wish I was fast. If I was fast and 6-foot-2, I’d probably be playing defensive back. But God blessed me.”
Orlando Brown Sr. sat out three NFL seasons after being hit in the eye and partially blinded by a weighted penalty flag. He was only 40 when he was found dead, of what turned out to be complications from diabetes, in Baltimore. By then he was divorced from the mother of his three sons. Orlando Jr., 15 when his father died, grew up in Georgia and has said he weighed well over 400 pounds in high school.
“I was bad” as an Oklahoma freshman, Brown said. “I was really bad. I just wasn’t ready. I was behind, fifth on the depth chart, not even taking reps. I was third on the freshman group. I just didn’t have it yet, the mentality. I’m swinging in practice, but I’m getting beat, so what does it matter? From there, me and Jammal [Brown, a former Oklahoma and NFL star] just started doing a lot more work. He started teaching me the game. My football IQ really did get better.”
Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson is a former Sooners standout who keeps up with offensive-line prospects at his school. Johnson, asked what he made of Brown and his combine numbers, said: “Good football player, not going to impress with his drill work. I see a guy who is still developing and growing into his body, who probably isn’t going to reach his full potential until he gets a few years in the league. He obviously has outstanding length and size. … He is pretty fluid in his kick-slide, and plays with a mean streak that scouts like.
“I think, getting in an NFL weight room, they’re going to develop him properly and attack his weaknesses.”
Brown said he had a formal meeting with the Eagles at the combine. They pick 32nd and last in the first round of the draft, and need depth at offensive tackle. They weren’t projected to have much of a shot at Brown going into the combine. Now the question might be whether they want him, if he’s there.
Long-armed tackles sometimes can get the job done without possessing great strength or athleticism. The Eagles probably wouldn’t need Brown to start right away. A lot might hinge on how dedicated he is to refining his craft.
“I understand the NFL,” Brown said. “I understand these schemes and what’s expected. I’m a good learner. And I’m a guy that understands my job isn’t going to just be given to me. I have to take it.”