BALTIMORE — The transformation period from rookie to solid NFL player takes about three to five years, but potential greatness is clearly evident in Year 2. That’s why there is so much optimism about Ravens receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in 2020.
A first-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2019, Brown finished his first season with 46 receptions for 584 yards and seven touchdowns, tying the team record for most touchdowns by a rookie.
And Brown did it despite playing with a foot injury he suffered in his senior season with the Sooners. Truth be told, Brown probably played at about 75 to 85% last year.
But earlier this offseason, Brown had a screw removed from his foot, probably the last major step toward a full recovery. By all accounts he is bigger, faster and stronger than a year ago, which is why he has produced more promotional advertisements than both 2020 presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
Now, you understand the excitement. If Brown put up those numbers injured last season, imagine what will happen when he is healthy.
It is still a fantasy but at least the Ravens like what they see so far with the regular season only several months away.
Brown started 11 of 14 games last season, but he didn’t look like the old Sooner from his days in Oklahoma. That kid could jab step and break the ankles of any linebacker on an end around. He could run after a short catch, make a jump cut at full speed and turn a 10-yard pass into a 50-yard touchdown. In his final season, Brown had 75 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns
But he barely practiced in the Ravens’ training camp as a rookie.
The Ravens tried to work him into game plans during the regular season but that’s hard to do when it’s midweek and his health status is questionable for the upcoming game. There were times when it looked as if Brown would tackle himself after a catch or head to the sidelines more than former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris after a run in the 1970s.
Yet, there was that two-touchdown performance against Miami, one an 83-yard reception where Brown ran away from every Dolphin and even some TV cameras. He had that one-handed 38-yard reception against the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional playoff game.
If only he were healthy…
Well, he has to be healthy now or he’ll get sued for false advertising. Brown is all over the internet and social media. There is video of him running, going in and out of cuts at full acceleration. There is footage of him running routes and working out with Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and his cousin, The Humble One, receiver Antonio Brown.
And then there is the weightlifting clip where Marquise Brown would have you believe he is as ripped as Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime.
We all know better, but we get the picture. The 5-foot-9 and 170-pound Brown is ready to flex his muscle both on and off the field.
The Ravens coaching staff is ecstatic. Brown fits into the strength of Jackson, who is more accurate on short and intermediate passes. With no injury, Brown should be able to run more quick slants, hitches, crossing routes, reverses, and bubble and jet screens from the slot position.
Because of the added bulk, the Ravens can put him on the outside as well, which they couldn’t do last year because Brown might struggle against physical cornerbacks such as the Ravens’ Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters.
The good thing is that Brown is a receiver and not a lineman, which usually requires extensive time in the weight room and added bulk. But with the great ones, they just seem to turn it up another level in Year 2.
We’ve seen that in Baltimore. In his second season, left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden had moved from guard and was on his way to becoming the best ever at his position. With a year in the weight room, Ray Lewis collected 220 tackles in Year 2 as opposed to 142 as a rookie.
Both Terrell Suggs and Peter Boulware were becoming more-complete outside linebackers in their sophomore seasons and safety Ed Reed added six tackles, intercepted two more passes and led the team with 19 knocked-down passes in Year 2.
And then there is Jackson. He made significant strides as a passer, runner and team leader in 2019 compared to his rookie season in 2018.
The verdict is out on Jackson and whether he can become a great player, but Brown had similar success as a rookie.
Is he next in line?
There is a lot of optimism.