C. C. Brown: Lions “Address” Safety Position

>> 5.11.2010

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.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,c. c. brown,houston texans,new york giants


Mike,  May 11, 2010 at 3:08 PM  

We can only hope that an upgraded defensive line leaves our secondary with less chances to get burned...

Adam,  May 11, 2010 at 4:58 PM  

I feel exactly the same way about Bullocks, well said.

LionsFanRoc,  May 11, 2010 at 6:10 PM  

Agreed with almost everything you said. But don't forget that a lot of veterans are going to get cut before the start of the season, so there is still hope to find someone who isn't so bad.

But perhaps Bullocks will surprise us all and save a little face from the Millen draft era.

Neil,  May 11, 2010 at 6:17 PM  

When it was announced that the Lions signed C.C. Brown, I got a message on Twitter from my boy Will, a Giants fan, that consisted of him just laughing at me. Not a good sign.

But I don't think the Lions are really counting on him to be the guy either. It's more that they are bringing in a cast of thousands and hoping that one of them works out well enough to play next to Delmas this season.

NorthLeft12,  May 12, 2010 at 7:37 AM  

I agree with LFR; there may be better Safeties that get cut just before the season. Hopefully we can pick one up if necessary.

To Neil; funny that Giants fans are laughing, as they were the ones crazy enough to start him and play every snap for seven games and most of three others. He is an easy whipping boy for the failures of their defensive line, MLBs, and their other safeties who ProFootballFocus graded out as worse than CC.

MIKE,  May 12, 2010 at 1:13 PM  


Bill,  May 12, 2010 at 10:21 PM  


Perhaps the laughing Giants fans should be more concerned about their coaching staff (still with the team) who put the kid in a bad position.

During his 4 years with the Texans, Brown was above average on special teams, played well against the run, and was a good tackler. His pass coverage skills were below average at best. Although his weak coverage skills were well known, the Giants tried to use Brown in many unfavorable (passing) situations because of injuries to other personnel. The poor results were to be expected.

The reality is that if Brown had above average cover skills, he wouldn't have been on the market. Used in the right situations, he can help the Lions. I wouldn't expect him to challenge for a starting position, but as a replacement for Kalvin Pearson (special teams, occasional snaps with the secondary) he is a significant upgrade.

Merch,  May 12, 2010 at 10:47 PM  

Keep in mind that they are so short on bodies in the backfield that they need a 6th for camp period. Doesn't matter how bad his coverage was last year or that he's typically decent against the run and poor in pass coverage... he'll fill a spot for now and if he is an upgrade to something or a viable special teams/nickle/dime package guy then he'll stick, otherwise we'll be sending him off in August.

There will be more to pick from, but probably not many top flight guys. We'll just have to weather the storm defensively this year, hope that an improved line translates into added pressure and as a result the DBs don't have to hold coverage as long. That means it's going to require some more accurate passes from opposing QBs and if they're under pressure then that may be more timing related....

Bullocks actually has the talent, it's his health that may get in the way. If he's going to be a factor in the NFL at all, this year will be the one to prove it. If he can't come back (sub par performer) or gets injured again he's pretty much done, he'll either be a twice injured poor performer or a thrice injured guy with nearly a half dozen seasons with nothing to show.

I'm still excited. Despite the gutting of the secondary and some gains by removing starters in the LBing core, I feel like we're a step or two ahead.

I really like Follet and him getting a shot will be fun to watch.

mickeyclaw,  May 13, 2010 at 4:22 PM  

I am an old broken Jarhead. I am not one who is given to dispair, even when dispair is the word of the day. Nor, do I speak of futility, even though an endeavour is percieved to be futile by all.

The Lion's secondary IMO will be measurably better than the cast of "Feather Merchants" that we fielded so ingloriously last year. The D-Line overhaul will pay dividends soon, I hope. The D-Line must make the DB's better, or we will whistfully look back upon the 2010 draft and wonder what could have been.

Bag,  May 13, 2010 at 6:13 PM  

It was cool to see my thoughts on Bullocks put into word. I'm totally with you on him and the Safety position. If Bullocks can prove himself to the staff to start AND he can stay relatively healthy, I feel OK with that position. In fact, if he can be a solid (average) Safety, then I would be at ease with the entire secondary, considering the DL improvements.

BUT if he can't win a starting job in this group of safeties, it's time to turn in the cleats.

Ty,  May 14, 2010 at 12:46 PM  


That idea, that the defensive line improvements will help fix the secondary, is interesting enough that I'm starting to look into it. However, it's far from a magic bullet--the fact is, I'm much less excited about Chris Houston and Nobody as our starting corners than I was about Henry and Buchanon, and they were terrible.

Having a secondary playing way back on their heels is bad news, period--and I don't believe the DL has improved to the point where the pass rush is going to make downfield coverage less relevant. Improvement from terrible? Probably. Effectively masking the one of the worst secondaries in football? No.


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