When the Lions drafted TCU running back Aaron Brown in the sixth round, there was quite a bit of consternation. Given the third-round pick of Penn State WR Derrick Williams, and the presence on the roster of pass-catching/third-down/kick-return RBs Maurce Morris, Aveion Caseon, and (at the time) Brian Calhoun, it seemed like the 6'-1", 196-pound Brown would be lucky to make the roster. Any pick spent on a longshot to make an 0-16 team had to be seen as a pick wasted . . .
After some research, it looks as though there are deeper concerns about Brown than the depth chart. In high school, Brown was suspended for his senior year following a "graffiti incident". Even more worrying was his senior year in college: a three-game suspension for "violating school policy". I haven't been able to discover the exact nature of this infraction--and apparently, this was by the design of TCU coach Gary Patterson. The fact that Brown's official bio doesn't list any of his accomplishments for his entire senior season is either a grave oversight, or an intentional wiping of the history books. Since this is being characterized as a 'violation of school policy', I'm willing to bet that it's something analagous to the old 'violation of team rules' line. That usually means a discipline problem like a fight, or was caught excessively drinking/smoking weed/etc. Alternatively, we could be looking at an academic problem like cheating on a test, or skipping too many classes. TCU, apparently, is notoriously tight-lipped about issues like this, so apparently no one has any information. Beyond that, there are some mild injury concerns, like an ankle injury shortening his junior season.
Still, there are no doubts that Brown is a talented athlete. Rivals didn't have him listed as a high school recruit, but he was a track star; he cut a 10.45 100-meter dash time in 2004. According to most scouting reports, he plays a bit like that too: extremely quick and fast--but too upright, and doesn't maintain his speed through cuts well. By all reports, he has outstanding hands (at least one team, the Cowboys, has worked him out as a wide reciever). For what it's worth, he seemed to headline every "How Was This Guy Not Invited To The Combine?" list.
He made an instant impact as a freshman, blowing up Utah for 163 yards on 17 carries on a nationally-televised Thursday night game. He ended the season with 758 rushing yards--and the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year award. His sophomore season was his coming out party; with 801 rushing yards, 9 TDs, and 34 receptions, he was named second team All-Conference. Going into 2007, it looked like Brown was ready to explode. Named the Preseason Mountain West Player of the year, Brown instead struggled with various nicks and bruises all year long. Finally, Brown tweaked an ankle against UNLV in the second-to-last regular season game. This, combined with TCU's unconventional ground attack, meant Brown only had 107 carries to work with--but managed to crank out 490 yards anyway. Adding in his 24 receptions and his kick returns, Brown managed to eke out 995 all-purpose yards on the season. Finally came his senior year and the Mystery Suspension; by the time Brown got on the field, he was rusty, and fighting for touches with his backup Joseph Turner, as well as the Horned Frog's athletic quarterback, Andy Dalton. Brown, however, used his last game to make a statement. Facing Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl, he rushed for 102 yards on just 14 carries (7.2 ypc), including a 16-yard TD run that put the Frogs on the board just before halftime, keeping their hopes alive. TCU used the momentum to come out rolling in the second half, en route to a 17-16 upset of the ninth-ranked Broncos.
There isn't much video out there of Brown, but I did unearth a few clips, mixed in with other TCU highlights:
Brown's offered the media a few blurbs about the vibe he got from the Lions in pre-draft workouts:
"I visited with Sam Gash, the running backs coach, and some of the player personnel guys and they made me feel a lot more welcome than a lot of teams did," Brown said. "I felt good about my experience there. There was a lot of hands-on work."
He also addressed the character concerns:
"I'm not the same person I was in high school or college," he said. "I talked to the Lions about all of that and they know that I'm remorseful for the things I did wrong."
The Grandmaster, in defense of the pick:
“He averaged almost 32 yards a kickoff,” said Schwartz. “That brought big value with Aaron Brown. At that point, that was who we liked,” he said. “Let me say this: everybody we drafted, we liked and we saw a role for. So it wasn’t like we were just drafting just blindly to take guys. But I thought we did a really good job of balancing high-rated players with how we were going to use them.”
With that quote, and the release of Brian Calhoun coming immediately after rookie minicamp, Brown's role is clear: there's an opportunity for him on the roster--but in order to make the most of it, he must immediately make an impact in the return game. The rest of the stuff: third-down back, slot receiver, etc., that can all come later. But if Aaron Brown is going to prove he belongs in the NFL, and prove the combine scouts wrong for snubbing him, he has to hit home runs in the kick and punt return game. The Lord knows the Lions need them.