MANHATTAN — Is there a path football players must take before they can hear their name called in the NFL Draft?
History indicates there is. NFL general managers put their faith in established college players.
But what about a running back with a checkered past, little college success but lots of talent? If he had a stellar high school career and an equally impressive workout in front of scouts, would that be enough to convince a NFL team to use a draft pick on him?
Bryce Brown may soon provide the answer.
The former Wichita East, Tennessee and Kansas State running back is a potential late-round selection in this week’s NFL Draft, which starts tonight and ends Saturday. Despite failing to stay with a college team for more than one season and quitting on his K-State teammates three games into his sophomore year, NFL teams are showing interest. He has been in contact with more than 20, and has held private meetings with position coaches for the Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs.
If he gets drafted, he will take an unusual rookie resume to the NFL. But his talent and potential make that a possibility.
“The thing I keep telling teams is: Don’t forget about Bryce Brown,” said Brown’s agent, Eric Armstead. “If you do, you’re going to regret it, because you can make yourself look like a very good administrator if you pick Bryce Brown up. He won’t get drafted early, simply because of the issues he has had to deal with, but you don’t want to let him get by you, because he is going to be good.”
Armstead is confident for two reasons. First, Brown’s physical ability has never been questioned. At 6-foot, 220 pounds, he has the ideal size for a NFL running back. He possesses speed and strength and was considered by some as the No. 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school.
Secondly, his pro day performance turned plenty of heads. Though he was not among the 327 players invited to the NFL scouting combine, his 40-yard time of 4.37 seconds would have ranked among the best there.
“He’s got potential,” Armstead said. “When you talk about and rank this kid as the No. 1 player in his recruiting class, it’s obvious he’s a special talent and a special athlete. A lot of people say he reminds them of Ronnie Brown. He’s just a good back with quick speed. People take chances on kids like that.”
Armstead also points to LeGarrette Blount and Arian Foster for inspiration. Blount was suspended for the majority of his senior year at Oregon for punching an opposing player after a loss, but went on to be a 1,000-yard rusher in the NFL. Foster ended his college career with a miserable senior season and bounced back to become a premier NFL running back.
Both went undrafted. Brown, who didn’t return an interview request, will also be a tough sell.
Several months ago, it didn’t look like Brown had any chance of being drafted. His biggest college accomplishment was rushing for 460 yards as a freshman at Tennessee, and he had just left his second team in a three-year span.
It was September, and after deciding to transfer to K-State, he left the Wildcats before Big 12 play began. He failed to crack the starting lineup, rushed for 16 yards on three carries and quit.
The Wildcats weren’t sad to see him go. Teammates viewed him as overrated, Snyder criticized him for not showing the work ethic needed to make it in his program and he became a punch line with fans when K-State prospered without him. The Wildcats won 10 games and had their best season in years.
“He lost a whole lot in making that decision,” said Brown’s close friend and former adviser Brian Butler. “He hurt himself a whole lot, and the team did really well without him. In the end, he made the decision that he thought was the right one for him even though others, including myself, wanted him not to make the decision. He was prepared to live with it.”
Had he stayed at K-State and put together a solid season, his draft stock would be much higher today. Instead, he is projected to be a seventh-round selection by some and an undrafted free agent by others.
“There just isn’t a body of work there with Bryce Brown,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper told the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press this week. “You can’t look at what he did in high school, because this is not like the NBA, where high school tells you where you’re going to be. I know he has the perfect physical components to be a good running back in this league, but the body of work is not there.”
When asked what prompted Brown to leave K-State, especially with his older brother Arthur excelling on the team at linebacker, Butler chose not to answer. Armstead also declined comment.
Brown has not spoken to the media since the 2011 football season began. But he has been peppered with questions from NFL scouts.
“He doesn’t like talking to the media,” Butler said, “but I can say he is holding himself accountable for his decisions with all these teams. He is training every day. He’s spending a lot of time fishing and a lot of time with his family. He isn’t the bad guy people are making him out to be. He’s just hoping and praying to get an opportunity on draft day.”
Since leaving K-State, Brown has spent time working out on his own in Tennessee, Miami and Wichita, hoping that he could redeem himself this week. Before he could try to convince NFL teams to take a chance, he had to convince several others to let him get on their radar.
First came Snyder. Without his consent, he couldn’t have participated in the Wildcats’ pro day.
Then he had to answer questions from Armstead before he agreed to represent him.
“It’s always a hurdle when you go to one school and transfer and then leave that team, too,” Armstead said. “NFL teams are going to ask the question, ‘If we give you $2 million, are you going to quit on us?’
“But he admitted to making some errors. He’s human. He thought some things were good choices, and he didn’t put in the necessary work that coaches wanted him to. But that was him in the past. This is him now.
“We talked to Coach Snyder about him. We talked to Lane Kiffin about him. We wanted to hear their side of the story, too. After doing that, you get the impression that everything that happened with Bryce is water under the bridge.”
If at least one NFL team feels the same, maybe Brown will finish off an unusual journey. If not, he’s prepared to work his way onto a roster as a free agent.
That’s what he signed up for when he deviated from the standard path to the NFL Draft.