Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown. The list of things that can intrigue you about this junior wide receiver from Notre Dame is about as long as his name. At 6’5”, he has the height that scouts crave in a redzone target, but he also has the speed to burn any defensive back who takes the slightest misstep. For a receiver of his height, he is very thin, weighing in at only 205 pounds. While it’s impossible to say that a 21-year old male can’t add on some weight, St. Brown isn’t your average 21-year old male in that he began weight training with his father, former Mr. Universe winner John Brown, at the age of five. For a deeper look into what may be one of the most fascinating backstories for a prospect, Mike Piellucci wrote a great piece for Sports Illustrated back in September.
When evaluating wide receivers, I like to start by asking one simple question: How does this receiver get open? There are multiple ways that a receiver can achieve this. Receivers like Desean Jackson may simply be faster than any defensive back that covers him, while someone like Kelvin Benjamin may be so much taller and stronger than the defensive back that he can simply high-point the ball and come down with it. Wes Welker ran such precise routes with a special quickness that he was two steps ahead of the defender before the he could even start making a play. A guy like Anquan Boldin was never really open; he was so physical that even when covered, he was the only one who could catch the football. Elite receivers such as Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, AJ Green, and Randy Moss are able to get open in multiple ways, making them exceptionally dangerous.
St. Brown, similar to some of the elite receivers listed above, is able to get open in multiple ways. With St. Brown’s height, he is able to catch the ball at a higher point than any defender who would try to cover him. In addition to the height, he has the athleticism and the body control to adjust to the ball while it’s in the air and be in the best possible position to come down with it. Take, for instance, this catch he had against Texas: St. Brown is able to adjust to the back-shoulder throw, square his body to the pass, get a little separation from the defender, catch the ball in mid-air above his head, and come down with a foot in bounds.
Despite his thin frame, St. Brown is surprisingly physical. Being such a big target, one would presume that St. Brown would be susceptible to getting jammed at the line of scrimmage. However, I consistently saw St. Brown beat the press to move around or through the defenders. While the play in the clip below ended with a sack, note
St. Brown on the top of the screen, pushing through a Stanford defender who tries to knock him off his route early in the play.
As with most tall receivers, St. Brown also has a catch radius that will make a quarterback drool. Although his wingspan and hand size won’t be known until the NFL Combine, St. Brown has the ability to bring in off-target passes for completions. Combined with his pure athleticism, it makes St. Brown a dangerous offensive weapon. In this clip from a 2016 game against Texas, St. Brown alters his route to run towards a hole in the zone, catches a pass that is very far in front of him while maintaining his balance, and holds on to the ball through a hard hit from the safety to score his second touchdown of the contest.
Unlike most tall receivers, however, St. Brown has truly special speed. If the defender plays St. Brown tight, like you would against a typical large-bodied receiver, he has the speed to make him pay with an explosive play downfield. He can also use this speed to run after the catch, as shown in this impressive play against Syracuse in 2017:
St. Brown also has the hands of a number one receiver. He rarely uses his body to catch the ball, instead catching the ball with his hands, away from his body. This is further evidenced by his drop rate, dropping only three passes out of his 61 catchable targets in 2016, his first year as a starter, which was good for seventh amongst all pass catchers from the Power Five conferences and Independent teams. Even on balls that are thrown below the numbers, where many receivers will use their bodies and forearms to bring in the pass, St. Brown will use his hands to catch the pass away from his body, bring it in to a running position, and turn up field. This play against the Miami Hurricanes showcases this talent, as well as his talent to be physical in his routes:
Where St. Brown could use some improvement is in being more consistent with his routes. He is excellent on routes that are greater than 90 degrees, such as a slant, a crossing route, or a post. His head and shoulders rarely turn before his hips, hiding the route until he is already into his break, which is a key to crisp route running. He is able to sink his hips and keep his pad level relatively low, given his height. I did notice, however, in routes that require a cut of 90 degrees or less, such as a comeback, an in, or an out, he would either round off the route or chop his feet too much. These routes require stronger footwork and greater short-area quickness, which St. Brown currently struggles with. On the play below, which is the early portion of his route that he scored on in the 2017 Syracuse game shown above, St. Brown runs a deep in route that isn’t quite as clean as you would want from a true number one receiver. The defender plays St. Brown with a lot of cushion and loses his footing during the cut, but St. Brown’s hesitation would allow a better corner to make a break on the route.
St. Brown also didn’t display the type of productivity you would hope to see from a future NFL star. His best season in college was his first as a starter in 2016, catching 58 passes for 961 yards and nine touchdowns. This production dipped to only 33 catches for 515 yards and four touchdowns in 2017. The most catches he ever caught in a single game was seven, and big plays accounted for a large majority of his yards. However, St. Brown’s production seems to be more the product of Notre Dame’s poor quarterback play and their focus on the run. St. Brown was also, by far, the number one weapon in the passing game. Defenses would routinely shift to double coverage on St. Brown in an attempt to remove him from the play.
Finally, St. Brown is not much of a run blocker. Too many times I saw him jog out of a snap and stand around until a defender engaged him. Staying low to get leverage is even more important when you are a thin, 6’5” receiver, and St. Brown seemed wholly disinterested in maintaining his blocks. You want to see your receivers find a body to block and engage that body with effort. Unfortunately, St. Brown would all too often simply do this:
St. Brown’s rare height-weight combination has produced mixed results on the next level. While simply comparing body types is hardly the most reliable tool for scouting, it can provide you with an idea of traits needed for a player of similar stature to be effective. In the MockDraftable.com database, the receivers closest to his size were Aaron Jones, an undrafted receiver out of Clemson who never played a down in the NFL, and Sidney Rice, a second round receiver out of the University of South Carolina who is widely considered a bust. However, in the era prior to the data that’s available in MockDraftable, there was a receiver with similar height-weight measurements who was selected in the first round of the draft: Randy Moss, in 1998 from Marshall; he had a pretty decent career. While it’s foolish to say that a receiver with St. Brown’s lack of production is going to turn into an all-time great receiver, the coach of the team that drafts St. Brown should sit him down, day one, Clockwork Orange style, and show him how Moss was able to use his freakish athleticism and overwhelming size while still running effective routes.
I think St. Brown is going to be an excellent number one receiver at the next level. Route running can take a receiver years to master, and St. Brown has shown the athleticism, body control, and foundation to turn into an excellent route runner. Combine that route running with his incredible speed, his towering height, his route physicality, and his great catch ability, and St. Brown has all the tools to give defenders fits for the next decade. He will certainly need to show that he has the desire to become great in all facets of the game and to become a willing run blocker, but he has all the tools necessary to do just that. His lack of production during his junior year has dropped him down numerous draft boards, but St. Brown is the type of receiver that will leave scouts in awe during workouts. I can’t see St. Brown lasting past the second round, and could even move into the tail end of the first round if he can run Moss-like times at the Combine (Moss ran a 4.38 second 40-yard dash and a 7.19 second three-cone). All it takes is one team to fall in love with a player, and St. Brown could certainly make that easy for a receiver-needy team.