Bryce Brown watched 228 players get selected in the 2012 NFL draft before the Philadelphia Eagles took a chance on him in the seventh round.
There are 31 other teams wishing they chose Brown much earlier.
The rookie running back has been outstanding in his first two starts filling in for injured All-Pro LeSean McCoy. Brown has 347 yards rushing — the second-highest two-game total in team history — and four touchdowns.
“I was high on him when I first put the film on with the few plays that he had while in college,” Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Thursday. “With natural ability, he’s a big, strong man that has speed. You put that natural ability and natural feel and instincts to it, and you generally have a good player there.
“He has done well in the pass protection, and the pass protections are the most concerning thing with those young rookies playing. He has done a very good job playing that way as well.”
Brown had 178 yards and two scores in a loss to Carolina on Nov. 26 in his first start since his senior year at Wichita East High School in 2008. He followed that up with 169 yards and two more TDs against Dallas. Both games were on national television, so Brown really showcased his skills to a wide audience.
To put those numbers in perspective, Brown already has more 160-yard rushing games than Bo Jackson had in his career. Former Eagles greats Brian Westbrook and Duce Staley had one. Wilbert Montgomery had two. McCoy also has one so far.
But Brown hasn’t been flawless by any stretch. He’s lost three fumbles in the two games, helping run the Eagles’ losing streak to eight.
“We’re doing a lot of stuff at practice, scout guys are going after it a lot more, trying to game-simulate it because we don’t really do contact,” Brown said. “It’s making me work a lot harder, too.”
McCoy, who has been sidelined by a concussion, wasn’t a fumbler his first three seasons. He lost just two fumbles before losing one in each of the first two games this season. Brown received some advice from McCoy about ball-security this week.
“He told me, `Don’t change a thing, keep playing with confidence and don’t pay attention to what everybody else is saying. Play your game and keep doing what you’re doing,“’ Brown said. “Protecting the ball and things like that, that’ll come.”
When McCoy returns, the Eagles will have a welcome problem. Two high-quality running backs are no longer a luxury given injuries. It’s uncertain whether McCoy will be back this season since the Eagles are playing out the string and he hasn’t passed the required concussion tests yet.
“There is a lot of exciting things, and certainly for the future it’s one of them,” Mornhinweg said of two elite-level backs. “Our focus right now is this next game. The past is important to learn from and the future is important for playing in, and that’s an exciting thing no question about it. Our focus right here and right now is on Tampa and the players that we have on the field.”
The Eagles (3-9) visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6) on Sunday, hoping to get their first win since Sept. 20. The Bucs present a challenge for Brown. They have the top rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 82.3 yards per game.
“I think it’s a great challenge for us as a unit offensively and we’re excited for it,” Brown said.
Brown was the nation’s highest-ranked running back coming out of Wichita East four years ago. He chose Tennessee and had an impressive freshman year backing up Montario Hardesty. Brown rushed for 104 yards in his first game with the Volunteers and finished with 460 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 101 carries.
When coach Lane Kiffin left for USC after that year, Brown transferred to Kansas State. He sat out 2010, and carried the ball only three more times in college. Brown suffered an ankle injury early in the season and played in just one game before leaving the program.
Scouts recognized Brown’s potential, but had little film on him and perhaps questioned his desire to play. For the Eagles, Brown was worth the final pick. General manager Howie Roseman had scouted Brown and coach Andy Reid talked to his former coaches. Then running backs coach Ted Williams gave the green light after working him out.
“I had a chance to talk to Lane Kiffin who coached him and he was positive about him,” Reid said. “A coach at Kansas State that I knew (said that) before he was injured, he was positive. Howie had done a ton of work on him, just background work, and then worked him out and so on and felt very comfortable. Ted Williams felt very comfortable with him; a big kid who can run fast and had good feet. Once I had a chance to meet him and Howie and Ted had a chance to meet him, you understand that he was a smart kid. Those were the things.”
Eighteen other running backs were drafted ahead of Brown. Only three — Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin (1,106), Washington’s Alfred Morris (1,106) and Cleveland’s Trent Richardson (827) have more yards rushing than Brown (488). Each has three times the number of carries that Brown has.