Because CB is a position of need for the Hawks going into 2011, I've put together a profile of a few young guys that I think could have an impact at OTAs and in camp, and possibly compete for a roster spot and playing time.
First of all, I want to take a look at newly signed CB Brandon Browner. Signed from the CFL's Calgary Stampeders in late January, I look at this guy as one of the most probable of the 'futures' guys to have an immediate impact for the Hawks. One thing that I noticed about him when doing some research is that he is listed as a strong safety at some outlets, a free safety at others, and a CB at most. I don't think Pete has really mentioned where they envision him playing, whether it be at strong safety, free safety backing up Earl Thomas, or corner - this versatility could be very helpful for him. At the moment, strong safety is a position in flux - Kam Chancellor is a good young talent but it's unclear if he's ready to start. Browner has the size and physicality to play that position so he could bring a lot to the table if Chancellor struggles or gets hurt. My guess though is that they've brought him in to play corner.
He fits the profile of a Pete Carroll corner: big, physical, and excels at man-to-man press coverage. He was basically the Nnamdi Asomugha of the CFL the past 3 seasons; he's the best shutdown corner on his team and most likely in that league, winning All-Star honors 2 years running. At 6'3, 220, he'll immediately become the biggest corner on Seattle's roster. In Pete Carroll's defensive philosophy, size and speed at the CB position are important: if they are not fast enough to play bump and run, and Browner most likely is not, corners are expected to muscle their opponents to the outside and limit the seam pass, forcing tougher throws from the opposing QB and lowering the odds of a successful completion. (I keep referring to a great article by Scott from 17Power for the breakdown of the Pete Carroll defensive player types, check it out) Browner's physicality seems ideally suited for this role and is basically what he excelled at while becoming a 2-time CFL All-Star.
So if he's so great, how did he end up in the CFL? Prior to the draft, the Oregon St. product was fairly highly rated: some outlets had him rated as high as the 2nd or 3rd round. He had a very successful college career; in two years he amassed 87 tackles (74 solo), a sack, five stops for losses, two forced fumbles, 15 pass deflections and six interceptions, one for a TD. He was heralded for his competitive nature and physical play.
Here are what some analysts said at the time. From ESPN.com:
Strengths: Is a big, strong, physical cornerback with upside. At his best in press man-to-man coverage. Has good overall athleticism for a big DC. Does a great job of getting a shove in at the LOS. Can matchup extremely well versus bigger receivers. Is tough and physical. Has long arms and good leaping ability. Wins jump-ball battles on a consistent basis. Will fill hard in run support and has good size/strength in that facet of the game.
Weaknesses: Is still a bit raw. Is a bit inconsistent with his footwork and hand-placement. Has marginal top-end speed. Lacks ideal COD skills and hip fluidity to stay with the double move versus quicker WR's. Also is better in tight man coverage than when giving a cushion. Lacks ideal ball skills. Needs to improve his consistency as an open-field tackler. May need to move to FS in the NFL.
Overall: Browner redshirted in 2002 before stepping in as a fulltime starter at cornerback in 2003, when he finished with 44 total tackles, six interceptions and another six passes broken up. As a redshirt sophomore in 2004, teams started to throw away from him more. Browner started all 12 games and finished with 46 tackles, one sack, zero interceptions and nine passes broken up. Browner, who elected to leave school early for the 2005 NFL draft, is still somewhat unpolished, he needs to improve his tackling skills and he also has poor top-end speed. However, Browner is worth taking a chance on in the second round because he has exceptional size, is a decent athlete for his size, and has the strength and confidence to hold up on an island. Some think his best fit in the NFL will be at FS but we think it would be a mistake not to at least give him a couple of years of experience at cornerback before making a move. Browner would be an ideal fit in a press-man scheme like the one the Eagles' employ, but he also could be a good fit in a cover-2 zone scheme if he is given time to learn and is coached well. Regardless, we think he can develop into a starting cornerback in the NFL.
POSITIVES: Well-sized, shut-down cornerback with good upside for the next level. Solid backpedaling in reverse, flips his hips in transition and displays a burst of closing speed. Effective in man-to-man coverage and has opposing quarterbacks looking away from him. Reads the receivers. eyes, gets his head back around, and makes plays on the ball. Quickly plants, then breaks on the throw. Gets vertical and adjusts to knock away the pass. Effectively uses his large frame to box out opponents. Explosive run defender who flashes on the scene and looks to deliver the knockout throw. Defeats blocks on his way to the ballcarrier.
NEGATIVES: More of a long strider with built-up speed rather than a quick, sudden defender. Gets turned, not the most instinctive player, and at times does a lot of chasing. Marginally effective backed off the line of scrimmage. Often flagged for pass interference. Times poorly at the combine.
ANALYSIS: A defensive back with outstanding size and strength, Browner is perfectly suited to play press coverage at the next level and also has possibilities at safety. Possesses a lot of upside potential and has the skills to be a shut-down cornerback in the NFL, but far from the finished product -- needs time to develop his overall game and will only be effective in certain systems.
PROJECTION: Mid Third Round
At the combine he ran a slow 40 time (4.54 low) that resulted in his stock falling precipitously, and because of this and possibly other red flags not mentioned anywhere I could find, he fell out of the draft all together. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by Shanahan's Broncos thereafter, where he tried to make the switch to safety (from kffl.com, July 15, 2005):
Andrew Mason, of DenverBroncos.com, reports Denver Broncos rookie S Brandon Browner is trying to make a successful switch from college cornerback to NFL safety. Browner has been drawing comparisons to Broncos' CB Lenny Walls. "The exciting thing about Brandon is that for all the things we like about Lenny (Walls), if you stand them side-by-side, they look like bookends," said general manager Ted Sundquist. "Yet Brandon carries a lot more weight than Lenny does in his upper body, which allows him to be a little more physical, which is why we feel he would be such a good fit at the safety spot." Browner feels the safety position fits him better.
He was looked at as a fairly promising young talent there until he broke his forearm in a preseason game and was placed on injured reserve, and subsequently waived. He failed to catch back on there in Denver, and ended up signing in the CFL, where he played corner.
And he played corner quite well in a league that is super pass heavy, has a wider field and receivers can run towards the line before the ball is snapped. This, without a doubt, will serve Browner well in his quest to make it at the NFL level. He was known in the CFL as being extremely physical and even dirty by some accounts. I don't mind this; the Seahawks need a guy like that to battle big receivers in the division like Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Crabtree. In his CFL campaign, he became known as a good tackler and amassed an impressive 11 interceptions in the last three years. By all accounts, he's good at going up for jump balls and winning battles with receivers (he has good hands as well, played WR in high school: 1,726 career yards and 24TDs).
He tried to catch on with NFL teams several times in the past few seasons, but injuries at inopportune times hampered his success with that. He is healthy now, and has been given his shot by Pete Carroll. When fellow Stampeder and CFL All-Star CB Dwight Anderson was asked about Browner's move to the NFL, he had this to say:
He's going to be perfect out there in Seattle with (head coach) Pete Carroll. They have a really aggressive defense and they'll give him a chance to get his nose mixed up in the running game sometimes, too. He's going to be real good out there. I think he's going to do great this time around.
I really hope he's right. It will be a very interesting storyline to follow in OTAs and minicamps, and it will also be interesting to see where they project him to play. As I mentioned, the Hawks do lack depth at safety as well, so Browner's versatility at that position could be key for him making the 53 man roster.
Overall, I'm really excited about the signing: he's young (26), aggressive, physical, and has something to prove. Could be a huge for the Hawks.