Both in the lead up to the 2018 NFL Draft and in evaluating the Seattle Seahawks’ roster since, I’ve continuously stressed the team’s need to find a replacement for Paul Richardson. In his breakout 2017 season, Richardson displayed traits that were unique to Seattle’s wide receiver corps, mainly, the ability to high point the football and consistently win above the rim, in addition to stretching the field vertically.
Now, Richardson’s leap in 2017 can’t be whittled down to just those two traits. To do so would be to discredit the step forward he took in the scramble drill and his connection with Russell Wilson, as well as the way he filled out other parts of his game. Richardson became a complete wide receiver on his way to getting paid last season.
However, it is those two traits that are massively important to replace, as the Seahawks currently have nobody on the roster who has proven to be able to do either in a large sample size. Of course, Doug Baldwin can pretty much do anything you like, and a potentially 100-percent healthy Tyler Lockett can be as good of a field stretcher as anyone. But to avoid leaning on Baldwin for everything and depending on Lockett to get back to a level he only reached as a rookie, Seattle has to find a new contributor.
In signing former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Jaron Brown to a two-year, $5.5M contract, the Seahawks may have done just that.
At the line of scrimmage, Brown has a jittery release, staying on his toes and continuing to move, enabling him to get off the line with good pace. He utilizes his hands well to prevent being stalled by press corners (although he has to do better at the catch point here).
Brown comes back to the ball with intent, breaking down his pattern rapidly and keeping the defender on his back. This play is a terrific example of Brown’s commitment to body position, fighting to stay in front of the defender and receive the ball into his chest, or force the defender to come through him and earn a flag in the process:
As a deep threat, Brown does a great job setting up vertical routes or deep crossers by feinting a step up or in, giving himself an extra bit of separation from the defender:
When evaluating receivers specifically for Seattle, I always want to see signs that they’ll have an understanding of what to do when the play breaks down and Wilson moves out of the pocket. With a quarterback like Palmer who thrives in the pocket, it’s tough to evaluate. But there were instances of him needing to escape and Brown would work back to his side of the field and did a good job reading Palmer’s eyes:
Of the games I charted, Brown had his most success on digs and outs. He is sharp getting into his break, and these two patterns are where his outstanding body position really pays dividends, again forcing the cornerback to either allow the easy completion or come through Brown’s back. Easy yardage and an easy completion for the quarterback:
When covered by an underneath defender and unable to win with positioning like he does so well, Brown has the ability to negate poor leverage thanks in large part to a strong vertical and the ability to win above the rim.
Brown’s hands are the most frustrating part of his evaluation. There are countless targets in his past two seasons where he does everything right, from the release, to the break, to the positioning, only to not be able to secure the catch when the ball arrives.
On a career high 69 targets in 2017, Brown’s catch rate fell to a career-worst 44.9-percent — the 10th lowest among qualifying receivers. Not entirely his fault, as Carson Palmer struggled with accuracy in the early parts of the season, but worrying still, as Brown has struggled at the catch point his whole career.
This play does a great job summarizing the frustrations with Brown. An excellent rep, releasing quickly, getting on top of the defensive back and getting him to bite on the double move, but can’t finish with a catch. The throw lets the defender back into the play, but the pass hits Brown in the hands and he has to do better:
Despite possessing a good above the rim game, Brown’s repeatedly shown an inability to secure the catch when a defensive back is able to get a hand into his frame. This speaks to an issue of hand strength rather than focus.
However, while Brown is unable to pluck the ball out of the air the way you’d hope, he is tough over the middle of the field after the catch, maintaining possession while getting blasted.
After the catch, Brown has the quickness to seperate in a few steps and create yardage for himself, especially underneath. This meshes perfectly with his strength on in-breaking routes - an area where Richardson excelled as well in 2017 - and will help him be a reliable safety valve in addition to being a receiver with a penchant for the big play.
For as frustrating and tantalizing of a receiver Brown has been, executing his pattern flawlessly right up until the catch, he does a terrific job in adjusting to passes away from his body. So while he will struggle to complete the process at times, he adjusts to the football really well.
Ultimately, Brown doesn’t move as fluidly as Richardson does, and we’ve yet to see the complete game from Brown that Richardson developed over the course of his time with the Seahawks. Despite that, Brown should be used in similar ways to Richardson in 2017: Sent vertically to stretch defenses, working the deep and intermediate levels of the field over the middle, and providing Wilson with an above the rim target. The parts of Brown’s game where he excels are encouraging.
Brown’s game can be frustrating and his inconsistency at the catch point leads to him disappearing from games, but the ability to get into good positions and create after the catch will earn your quarterback’s trust, and earn yourself targets. Those are two traits Brown possesses, and that should make his debut season in Seattle one with promise as the team looks for a newcomer to fill the void left by Richardson’s departure.