When it became known that the Lions had signed safety C. C. Brown, I immediately received condolences from Texans fans.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, I held out hope that Brown would be the kind of post-draft signing who could play a vital role. Not a difference-maker, per se, but as a gap-closer between Marvin White and an average NFL starter, Brown could make a difference. Even mildly strengthening the defense’s weakest link, which is also the last line of said defense, could strongly improve the unit’s overall level of play.
Well, according to Pro Football Focus’s safety film grades, C. C. Brown is an improvement over Marvin White, but only a miniscule one: Brown graded as the 76th-best of 87 safeties, and White finished 86th of those same 87. I’ll leave it to them to explain how their grading system works, but essentially, players are graded on each play as to whether their performance is above or below an average performance for an NFL starter.
Glancing at the ordinal ranking, Brown and White are both terrible; we can safely put any hope that Brown will be a significant upgrade out with the trash. But take a closer look at the actual data: over a greater amount of snaps (490 to 452), C. C.’s play earned a grade of negative 10.5, meaning that the balance of positive plays and negative plays swung him 10.5 points below the average for his position. Marvin White’s grade was –21.6.
You can see in the data that C. C. was terrible in coverage, grading out at –10.6 in pass coverage assignments. This is consistent with the most vocal criticism of his play. However, he was +2.1 against the run, tied for 26th-best, just 0.1 behind 25th-ranked Louis Delmas. Meanwhile, Marvin White was terrible everywhere: –14.2 in coverage, and –5.7 against the run.
Now, these grades aren't authoritiative, by any means: they're produced by passionate fans reviewing TV broadcasts. But it gives you a lot more legitimate idea of Brown’s limitations than “he sucks”. We see that Brown was indeed a major liability in coverage, but not as bad as White was. Further, Brown was actually quite good against the run. Now, for the wet blanket: Marquand Manuel and Ko Simpson, with 354 and 321 snaps, respectively, graded out much better than either Brown or White at–2.6 and –4.8 overall, respectively.
The next clue as to Brown's worth comes in his contract: he has a one-year contract with an undisclosed (likely minimal) salary. We can see that he wasn’t brought in to start, but to compete. Quoth The Grandmaster:
The one area that we probably still have more work to do is the secondary. It is wide open in a lot of areas . . . We've got a lot of guys who have played a lot of football in the NFL, and they're all at that stage where they need to grab ahold of a starting position and hold onto it and not just be a part-time player or a bit player.
I’m left with an empty feeling here. Between Brown, Manuel, Simpson, White, and Bullocks, only Bullocks hasn’t thoroughly proven himself to be a substandard NFL safety. Bullocks is a human question mark: if a crazed, haggard man claiming to be from the future stopped me on a street corner today and told me Daniel Bullocks will to the Pro Bowl this year, I could see it. If the same man stopped me today and told me Daniel Bullocks will be cut tomorrow, I could see it.
If Bullocks steps up and takes the job, I'll be thrilled; Bullocks and Delmas will make an excellent, young, athletic safety pair. If it’s anybody else, or a platoon, this is going to be another yearlong headache of long runs and passes blowing games wide open. C. C. Brown will be in the mix, I’m sure, and he’s certainly better than White . . . but anyone expecting him to step in and play well, or even be the odds-on favorite to start, is kidding themselves.