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How new Ravens pick Orlando Brown can become a good NFL lineman despite a bad combine

Retired NFL DE Stephen White looks at what the Oklahoma OT did on the field.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oklahoma vs Georgia Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Update: The Ravens picked Orlando Brown in the third round.

When a guy has one of the worst workouts in combine history, I think its human nature to try to look at his film for answers. How, Sway?!

Brown was only able to get up 14 reps of 225 pounds. He ran a 5.85 (!) in the 40, his vertical was less than 20 inches, and the short shuttle might have been his worst performance of all, clocking in at 5.38 seconds. I know not every good player tests wells athletically, but that was pitiful.

You can’t just erase something like that from your memory, so it stands to reason that I might have been a little biased at first against Brown’s on-the-field performance, trying to find any hint of laziness in his play, to make sense of what happened at the combine.

After a while, I became aware of that bias and started completely over, watching Brown’s tape without trying to focus so much on his shortcomings and instead looking for things he did well.

And wouldn’t you know it. After watching with an open mind, it’s clear that no matter his athletic shortcomings, Brown is a pretty good player.

How good, however, is certainly debatable.

My big thing with evaluating offensive tackle prospects after doing it for several years is trying to project how effective they will be as pass blockers. Everybody knows the modern NFL is a passing league. Yes, it still matters if a tackle can run block, but it matters a hell of a lot more whether he can keep edge rushers off his quarterback. A tackle who struggles in protection is a liability most teams can’t afford, so I place a high priority on guys who show good feet and punch on their pass sets and who don’t get beat often in college.

With Brown, what I saw from his pass blocking was a mixed bag.

There were plays where the son of former NFL lineman “Zeus” Brown looked impressive blocking an edge rusher.

His kick step was inconsistent, but it got the job done most of the time.

Brown’s punch wasn’t always as violent as I might have liked, but it could be very effective.

He was also adept at jump setting defensive linemen right off the snap.

That allowed Brown to stop those rushers before they could really get started.

It made life easier for him and kept guys off his quarterback, because when Brown got his hands on you, it wasn’t easy to get them off.

Just his sheer size, 6’8 and close to 350 pounds, appeared to intimidate a lot of rushers into not even trying all that hard to run around him.

And trying to run down the middle of a guy Brown’s size was not the business, either.

On the other hand, there were nine times I saw pass rushers get past Brown.

Brown only technically gave up one sack in these four games.

He did, however, let one pass rusher force the quarterback to scramble ahead into a sack.

The other seven times, either the ball was already gone by the time the pass rusher was actually able to get past Brown ... or he was saved by a running back picking that guy up.

It is hard for me to reconcile how Brown could look so good one play as a pass blocker ... and so average on another. I would have a hard time trusting him as a left tackle in the NFL, unless he had a lot of help with chip blocks on the edge.

It probably makes more sense to try him at right tackle instead, where it is a little more common to get extra help on passing plays.

At the same time, there are a lot of premier edge rushers who line up on the defense’s left edge, so it’s not like you can hide Brown at right tackle. At some point, he is going to have to block those guys one-on-one.

I am not sure how much right tackle Brown has played before (he doesn’t like the idea of switching), but it is going to be an adjustment, regardless. He would have to polish his technique to the point where he could be consistent, or he would have plenty of issues on the right side as well.

As for run blocking, right tackles are supposed to be the “mauler” types, and I think Brown has the size and ability to play that role. Brown got good push as a run blocker in the games I watched, especially in short-yardage situations.

He might not bench press a lot, but Brown definitely showed that he has plenty of functional strength.

When he felt like it, Brown could be physically dominant as a run blocker, driving cats 10 yards down the field at times.

He was also pretty good at combo blocking up to linebackers.

And he didn’t mind roughing his opponents up a little at the end of the play.

I wish I saw that kinda dog in him every play, but I saw it enough to know it’s there. He just needs to keep the same intensity all game long.

If he can do that, or if he gets with an offensive line coach who can pull that out of him, there won’t be many guys who’ll enjoy lining up across from him on early downs.

The one area where Brown’s lack of speed and quickness did show up was when he had to pull.

I swore Brown was so damn slow that he looked like he was running in quicksand.

When I first started watching his tape, I couldn’t help but focus on how long it took him to get from point A to point B on those pulls, because his combine performance was still ringing in my head.

Once I got over how lumbering he looked, however, it hit me that he was still pretty effective on a lot of those plays.

It wasn’t always pretty, but when Brown made it to his landmark and turned up the field, he created some running lanes, if for no other reason than his size.

Still, I can’t see Brown doing a whole lot of pulling in the NFL.

When I saw Oklahoma move Brown to right tackle for a play, so that the normal right tackle could line up at left tackle and pull outside for a speed sweep (something I never saw Brown do in four games), the jig was up for me.

Oklahoma, to its credit, recognized Brown wasn’t really equipped to block out in space and responded by not asking him to do it.

But that shows there are some things he just won’t be effective at. Whoever drafts him will have to accept that.

I don’t know how much value teams place on a tackle being able to pull outside, but I do know it would be better for him if he could do it.

With Brown’s size, he makes for an enticing prospect, but I have to say it’s hard to ignore his turrible combine performance, when some of those same speed and quickness issues show up on his tape. I am not as concerned about his strength, because he showed on tape that he is plenty strong, but what does concern me is trying to find out what kind of work ethic he has.

See, as I said on our podcast, it wasn’t just that Brown bombed at the combine. Bigger than that, he bombed everything.

If it was just the bench press or just a slow 40 time or just a low vertical or just him getting yelled at during field drills, you could explain it away. But putting up those numbers, coming from a big-time program, is a serious red flag. The fact that he was bad at literally everything at the combine suggests Brown didn’t work very hard to prepare for the biggest job interview of his life.

So what is he going to do when he starts cashing those NFL checks?

Even if you want to be charitable and assume Brown busted his ass this spring, if that was the best he could do, would that be even worse?

With all that said, I can see how some folks would still take Brown in the first round.

I, however, would not.

Most first round tackles do not get time to work on their technique, and that’s exactly what Brown will need to do. If he is thrown right into the fire, his confidence might never recover.

Even with better technique, Brown might struggle as a pass blocker early because of his limited athleticism. I do think that, with his size, Brown has the potential to be a very good tackle down the road, but it’s going to take time and some patience from the organization that drafts him. Even then, I don’t see him as being a Pro Bowler.

But that’s OK.

He doesn’t have to make the Pro Bowl to be worthy of a second- or third-round pick. Brown ultimately won’t be judged on where he is drafted, but on how he plays. If getting drafted after the first allows him the time to sit and get better, that’s probably better for him in the long run.

Since I don’t have access to all-22 for college games, I use the next best thing: draftbreakdown.com, where they post the TV copy of a bunch of top prospects’ games already cut up. This time, draftbreakdown only had two of Brown’s games from last season, so I had to use Google to find two more. For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched Brown play against UTEP, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Georgia. Those represented the first, sixth, ninth, and 14th games on Oklahoma’s schedule, respectively.