Orlando Brown Jr. still hasn’t heard the end of it.
Teammates, coaches and even opponents in the heat of Sunday games still remind Brown about his historically bad NFL scouting combine.
Sure, the Baltimore Ravens’ starting right tackle reckons, he spews plenty of trash talk himself — so no need to name names.
But “obviously, it’s something that people talk about,” Brown told USA TODAY Sports by phone. “I had someone tell me I [expletive] off $100 million at the combine. … It is what it is. It’s who I am.”
Brown doesn’t flinch.
Brown arrived at the 2018 NFL scouting combine after an All-American season at Oklahoma. He was named Big 12 offensive lineman of the year twice. Brown figured his college tape would vouch for his value more than his combine performance. His ability wasn’t predicated on speed or weight-room strength. Still, Brown hoped the 19-to-21 bench-press reps he had practiced would suffice. He’d been hammering cardio and speed at his training facility, too.
So when Brown balked after 14 reps — worse than all but one offensive tackle since 2000, per Pro Football Reference — he knew he’d hurt his first-round projection. Then came his 5.85-second 40-yard dash, worse also than all but one tackle this millennium. Brown worried the combination reflected poorly on more than just his ability now. Did he look unable or unwilling to compete?
“Being an NFL athlete, typically when you’re slow and weak, you’re not going to pan out,” Brown said. “You’ve got someone like me whose numbers are low and unlike anything [teams] have ever seen. And if they’ve seen it, it’s from a guy who works at Walmart or Chuck E. Cheese.”
The son of a nine-year NFL starter hadn’t planned to work at either.
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Orlando Brown ran a 5.85-second 40-yard dash at the 2018 NFL scouting combine. (Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA TODAY Sports)
Brown, who was named to the Pro Bowl in 2019, owned the disappointing marks in dozens of interviews that week two years ago. He knew he was still a ballplayer, he says, and the mockery-inducing performance would only add to the chip already growing on his shoulder. Sooners teammates, too, vouched for Brown’s acumen.
“When are you going to watch Orlando Brown run 40 yards down field?” quarterback Baker Mayfield, the NFL’s first overall selection in 2018, told reporters of his blocker. “Never. Look at his film. He gave up zero sacks last year.”
Brown understood why talent evaluators cared about his athleticism. New Orleans Saints tackle Terron Armstead, the Philadelphia Eagles' Lane Johnson, San Francisco 49ers' Joe Staley and Washington Redskins' Trent Williams have posted four of the five fastest 40-yard dashes among offensive linemen since 2000. All have since earned multiple Pro Bowl berths.
And, of course, Brown realized, any business investing millions in an asset — as NFL teams are in players like Brown — would want to comb through all predictive metrics available.
“I think it’s important,” Brown said. “But man, the combine didn’t justify the type of player I was and the capability I had at the next level in any way.”
Brown ended up falling to the third round of the NFL draft, the Ravens selecting him with the 83rd overall pick. He laments the financial consequences of dropping two rounds below when he’d expected to hear his name. Otherwise, landing with the team his dad long started for, at a time when the Ravens were ascending, has proven an apt fit for a player who’s rebounded strongly from his disappointing combine workout.
Brown has played every game and started all but six since Baltimore drafted him. In 2019, as the Ravens dominated their way to the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed, Brown gave up just three sacks all season and was ranked the ninth-best offensive tackle in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. He helped anchor the line, clearing lanes for the Raven’s league-best rushing attack. Baltimore’s 206 rushing yards per game surpassed second-place San Francisco (144.1) by more than 60. The metrics that slowed Brown at the combine haven’t slowed him as a professional.
Buyer beware, NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.
“[Brown] was somebody that was punished way too much for a poor workout, because the tape was so good,” Jeremiah said Friday. “Where he ended up was way too far of a drop.”
Instead, Jeremiah heeds, teams should set their draft boards and project talent before the combine — using workouts as tiebreakers and factors, but prioritizing game tape and interviews above one-time workouts. An offensive lineman’s evaluation isn’t as relevant as a cornerback’s speed. No doubt some of the 337 prospects descending on Indianapolis this week will similarly buck trends.
“A great example of a warning sign there for teams: Don’t stray too far from your initial board once you get it up,” Jeremiah said. “Rely on the tape, get to know the person, and use these workouts to split ties. I think that's the best way to go about it.”
And for prospects falling short of their goals?
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” Brown said. “Understand it’s a job interview. It’s important where you’ll get drafted and what your situation will be going in. But just control what you can control.
“All of those things are fuel to the fire.”
And perhaps an extra spark for trash talk.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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