Last week, I wrote an article asking which receiver you most expected to finish in the top three in targets and/or yards along with Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett (repeat: among wide receivers) and he results were fairly evenly split between two players: Jaron Brown and Amara Darboh.
Brown was at 39% of the vote as of this writing, Darboh at 36%, and way down in third place was Tanner McEvoy at 7%. So let’s isolate this down to the two frontrunners.
Who has the best odds of being a starter between Brown and Darboh?
The Seahawks signed Brown to a two-year, $5.5 million deal. As I noted after the Barkevious Mingo two-year deal, Seattle rarely gives out multi-year contracts to free agents so it stands to reason that they see something special in those that they do. It doesn’t always work out (Cary Williams, J’Marcus Webb) but the idea in mind is that what you risk upfront, you stand to gain in year two if that players works out like you think they will.
Part of that is likely because Brown is the only veteran receiver on the team right now outside of Baldwin and Lockett, with the rest of the bunch having very little NFL experience. He’s also the second tallest receiver on the team, behind only the 6’6 McEvoy.
Brown: 6’3, 204 lbs
At his Clemson Pro Day in 2013, Brown ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, had a 35.5” vertical, 10’4 broad jump, and 6.82 three-cone time.
Now, you could also say that Brown comps nicely with receiver Marquess Wilson, who was at the 2013 combine: 6’3, 194 lbs, 4.51 40-yard dash, 34.5” vertical, 10’2 broad, 6.65 three-cone time. Wilson was only a seventh round pick and he did have a semi-productive 2015 season (464 yards) but injuries have held him back also, including breaking his foot multiple times. He is currently with the Eagles on a futures deal.
There’s also Justin Hunter, who measured 6’4, 196 at the combine with a 4.44, 39.5” vert, and an 11’4 broad jump ... and his career has not been good. The point being that Brown is a unique athlete in general, but maybe not quite that unique when measuring against other professional athletes. And also that measurements and athletic abilities are important, but having them doesn’t necessarily translate into on-field success.
Has he had on-field success in the NFL?
PFF notes that Brown was mostly used as a decoy in Arizona, but that during those times when quarterbacks did target him on deep attempts, 100% of the time it worked every time:
Despite playing on over 73 percent of the Cardinal’s snaps last year, Brown was often a decoy and rarely involved in the passing game. Brown was targeted on just 12.1 percent of his routes run last year, but he excelled on the deep ball (targets of 20-plus yards) where he caught 6-of-6 “catchable” balls for 178 yards and three touchdowns. That deep ball success could do wonders in Seattle on broken plays with Russell Wilson. Listed at 6-0, 205 pounds with 4.45 speed, Brown could be a potential late bloomer in Seattle as the replacement for Paul Richardson.
PFF also noted that Brown ranked third in the NFL for passer rating on throws to receivers on a post route, with throws to Brown on post routes resulting in a 130.8 rating.
FootballOutsiders didn’t like Brown much last season, as he ranked 71st in DYAR (one spot ahead of Dez Bryant, but only 15 spots from last place Zay Jones) and some of that has to do with his 45% catch rate in 2017.
In fact, Brown has caught just 53 of 114 targets since 2015, for a catch rate of 46.4% over the last three seasons combined.
Out of 180 players with at least 100 targets over the last three seasons, Brown ranks 177th in catch rate, ahead of only J.J. Nelson (his teammate on the Cardinals), Corey Coleman, and Breshad Perriman.
lowest catch rates over the last three seasons combined, minimum 100 targets. Jaron Brown ranks 177th, teammate JJ Nelson at 178th. QB play does have a lot to do with it. pic.twitter.com/rBQUDcCfeR— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) May 19, 2018
Go back to 2014, when the Cards were 11-5 and a playoff team and Carson Palmer/Drew Stanton were playing well and you’ll see that Brown caught 22 of 32 targets. That included 8 of 9 from Palmer and 13 of 21 from Stanton.
At that point though, Brown was mostly a short yardage target. Per ProFootballReference, there were three deep completions to Brown that season (22, 23, and 26 yards) and five deep incompletions. Move now to 2017 and you’ll see that Brown caught 50% of his targets from Palmer (20 of 40) with 7.8 yards per target and 16 first downs. Between Stanton and Blaine Gabbert, Brown caught 10 of 28 targets (35.7%) for 145 yards, but those yards were not created equal.
With Stanton this time around, Brown averaged just 2.9 yards per target — 16 targets, 47 yards. It simply was not working between Stanton and Brown, while Brown was actually averaging 8.2 Y/target with Gabbert even though the catch rate was low.
Overall on deep passes, Brown had receptions of 52, 32, 30, 25, 25, 22, 22, 21, and 20. These aren’t “short passes made into long runs by Brown,” these are deep passes traveling 20 yards downfield and three of them were stopped where they stopped because of touchdowns. (One was also a 21-yard completion from Larry Fitzgerald.) Also notable: despite 38 targets to Brown not getting caught last season, FootballOutsiders only credits him with one drop on 69 throws.
So in some respects, Jaron Brown has the makings of a quality starting NFL receiver, at least when he was a quality starting NFL quarterback to work with. Russell Wilson is one of those, so that’s a positive sign that if working in Seattle as the number three option, specifically in a Paul Richardson-sized role; though Brown is literally a bigger size than Richardson (3” taller, ~20 lbs heavier), Wilson completed 11-of-29 deep throws to P-Rich last season per PFR and Brown seems like a guy qualified to inherit some of those attempts.
On the other hand, Brown has had five pro seasons to become something — something greater than just a fill-in starter or depth chart addition — and I can’t say that he’s really done that to this point, even when he did have Carson Palmer to work with. The Seahawks signed him for two years but there’s little really attaching Brown to the league if he just gets out-performed by some younger, cheaper options. Seattle is buying potential, and that’s rarely a good sign for a player who is 28.
It doesn’t mean he can’t win 75 targets this upcoming season and so something good with those opportunities, it just means that it’s fair to be skeptical that he won’t.
Meanwhile, his top competition has the benefit of youth (somewhat) but much less evidence that he’s going to have any success at the NFL level.
When checking up on the best and worst receivers drafted right around the turn from day two to day three, you’ll find three significant Seattle disappointments.
I decided to mark a barrier between pick 80 and pick 130, between years 2010 and 2015, and only wide receivers, and there were 45 results. Out of those 45, two have made a Pro Bowl: T.Y. Hilton and Emmanuel Sanders. Out of those 45, 13 have never caught a touchdown. The list includes players from Abilene Christian to Appalachian State to Alabama, Auburn, and Arkansas. One of the best players in the group played at The Citadel and some of the worst were at UCLA, Washington State, and Kansas State.
Two teams show up four times: The Steelers and the Rams. Pittsburgh did pretty good with their receiver haul, including Martavis Bryant and Sanders. The Rams came away with little, including Chris Givens, Greg Salas, and Stedman Bailey.
Still, St. Louis (at the time) did much better than three picks by the Seahawks.
Chris Harper (2013, 123rd overall) had zero catches in the NFL.
Kevin Norwood (2014, 123rd overall) had nine catches in the NFL.
Kris Durham (2011, 107th overall) had 55 catches over four NFL seasons, with three of those coming in Seattle.
That particular area of the draft has been a complete deadspot when it comes to Pete Carroll and John Schneider selecting receivers, but it did not slow them down from picking Darboh 106th overall last year. Nor should it, if that’s who they believe is the right pick and best fit for the team at that position.
Former Michigan WR Amara Darboh at the #NFLCombine. pic.twitter.com/KKxWXW6WmA— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) March 4, 2017
Despite the fact that Darboh has almost outdone the production of what Harper, Norwood, and Durham did in Seattle combined, that’s not saying much and he hasn’t done much. I refuse to believe that Darboh or any other receiver could not have won more playing time with the Seahawks last year. Richardson wasn’t doing anything that special, Lockett was kind of downright bad, especially in the context of being a starting outside receiver.
It’s not entirely the responsibility of a late third round rookie receiver to step up immediately and prove he’s capable of producing at the pro level just because the guys ahead of him aren’t that great, but players do it sometimes (JuJu Smith-Schuster was the youngest player in the league last season) and Darboh didn’t. Neither did David Moore or Tanner McEvoy or most of the guys he’s competing with this year but Darboh has so far done nothing to separate himself from them or from the ghosts of Seahawks-mid-round-receiver past.
Not that he can’t.
At 24, Darboh is four years younger than Brown, though he’s not exactly “young” for his level. He’s 6’2, 214 lbs, and he ran a 4.45 at the combine, with a 36” vertical and 10’4 broad jump. The physical attributes are there, but nothing much clicked between him and Wilson in 2017.
Darboh had 13 targets and he caught eight of those, gaining 71 yards. That included Wilson going 1-of-5 on deep targets for 16 yards (this was on 2nd-and-20 and did not result in a first down). Wilson was therefore 7-of-8 for 55 yards on all other throws, picking up two first downs in the process.
Former Michigan WR Amara Darboh getting involved early for the Seahawks #GoBlue #NFL pic.twitter.com/2VX9E4wAS8— Michigan Sports News (@SportsGuyMI) September 17, 2017
If would seem that for this job, the Seahawks are looking for someone who can be a consistent deep threat, like this:
Amara Darboh pulls in a 39 yard one handed catch against Michigan State, on a career high day, to lead Michigan to a win! @Freetownsfinest pic.twitter.com/UR8g2DOFQe— Michigan Moments (@GoBlueMoments) May 9, 2017
WR Amara Darboh (Michigan, 6'1", 215lbs, 4.45). Overlooked (won't be a WR1), but really crisp routes across the middle. Needs to fix drops. pic.twitter.com/5bXPAQBQil— Jeremy Stevenson (@MyColtsAccount) March 28, 2017
The skills are seemingly within Darboh because of what he did at times at Michigan, but those skills are in a lot of players in college who don’t translate it to the next level. It’s entirely possible that he shows them this season, it’s also possible that he fades away behind a better performance by a teammate like Brown, Moore, McEvoy, or somebody else. Darboh has the best resume in the group outside of Doug Baldwin, Lockett, and perhaps Brown — but it is not a “good” resume.
There’s plenty left to prove for all these guys save Baldwin, and Darboh has a decent shot to win a job that puts him on the field for snap one on offense each week.
Do you think he has the best shot between him and Brown though?
Who wins more playing time with the Seahawks in 2018?
This poll is closed