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How Marquise Brown Became a Good Receiver

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We all knew Marquise Brown was a weird player. Now, it seems he is a different adjective that ends with a “D”. Much to the chagrin of Browns, Bengals, and Steelers fans, the operative word is not bad; it is good.

In his first two seasons, the man known as Hollywood was one of the most inconsistent wide receivers in the NFL. Brown would often only have productive outings against divisional opponents or in the playoffs. When not in such showdowns, Brown was generally a below-average receiver. He had drop issues, particularly in 2020. Brown dropped 10.8% of his passes in the regular season, a top-10 mark in the NFL. However, the 2019 first-round selection has noticeably figured out his path to consistency in 2021.

Hands

When a receiver is good enough, their hands begin to not matter as much. This seems contradictory, but do you complain about Tyreek Hill‘s hands or Ja’Marr Chase‘s hands, two of the top receivers in drops in 2021? Brown falls into the same category. While he does have two drops this year, both against Detroit, he has been reliable in all areas of the field, so people are not focused on how well he catches the football. It was an issue in 2020, but Brown was not productive enough to overcome the issue.

Chase and Hill are not the only All-Pro caliber receivers that have had drop issues in 2021. Similarly, Deebo Samuel leads the NFL in receiving yards per game, but he also has a league-leading number of drops. Does this make Samuel worse? No, he gets open enough to overcome the drop issues.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – OCTOBER 11: Wide receiver Marquise Brown #5 of the Baltimore Ravens stiff arms cornerback Kenny Moore II #23 of the Indianapolis Colts during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium on October 11, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Route Running

In his first two seasons, Hollywood Brown did not run the most diverse route tree. He was often stereotyped as a deep threat, being forced to the back burner as the Ravens utilized more short and intermediate targets. In 2021, Brown has improved dramatically as a route runner at all levels, but his deep route running has become one of the best in the NFL. Couple this with Lamar Jackson’s league-leading average depth of target, and the Ravens have a high-octane passing offense for the first time in their history. Naturally, both Jackson and Brown are huge beneficiaries of this as the Ravens rank in the top 10 in yards per pass attempt, and Brown ranks ninth in receiving yards per game entering Week 9.

The Deep Ball

While Jackson leads the NFL in average depth of target, Brown is second among wide receivers with 50 targets with a robust 16 yards of depth per target. This combination means Brown is consistently targeted down the field. While these plays are often less likely to be completed than shorter passes, it does give a boom-or-bust option in the Ravens’ offense. For example, Jackson has a fairly low completion percentage for 2021 quarterbacks, but he’s among the league leaders in yards per pass attempt.

Brown suffered the same fate. Deeper passes are more difficult to complete, so Brown may not be the most efficient downfield target because of his excessive depth, but he is a volatile one. When he catches the football, as he’s done in six of seven games, he is electric and can score touchdowns anytime he touches the football. This year, he has six receiving touchdowns, the third straight year that he’s had at least six. Of his touchdowns, four have come on deep targets, tied with Chase for the most in the NFL. This represents a career-high for Marquise Brown as well.

BALTIMORE, MD – NOVEMBER 07: Marquise Brown #5 of the Baltimore Ravens carries the ball against Xavier Woods #23 of the Minnesota Vikings during overtime of the game at M&T Bank Stadium on November 7, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)”nNo licensing by any casino, sportsbook, and/or fantasy sports organization for any purpose. During game play, no use of images within play-by-play, statistical account or depiction of a game (e.g., limited to use of fewer than 10 images during the game)

The Future

For the first time in franchise history, it seems like the Ravens have found an answer at the wide receiver position. Brown has been productive in 2021, but he is not the only former first-round pick to find production on the offense side of the ball. 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman has had over 100 yards over the last two games. Baltimore’s prolific trio, also counting Mark Andrews, may not be the sexiest combination of names, but is the most productive trio in Ravens history.

Heading into the Week 9 slate of Sunday games, Andrews and Brown are clearly amongst the eight most productive receiving duos league-wide. Also, they are one of four duos to have 500 yards apiece, and they are the only duo to have played seven games to this point. The Chiefs, Seahawks, and Buccaneers are the only other teams with pairs of pass-catchers that fit these criteria.

Naturally, Brown’s role will fluctuate from week to week due to the volatility of the deep ball. Even when Lamar Jackson is laser-focused down the field, Brown must keep it rolling. In Jackson’s best downfield passing performance, Brown had a pair of deep drops. In other games, Brown has been exquisite down the field, but Jackson has been unable to connect with him. For the Oklahoma alum to continue to stay productive, he will need a steady diet of deep touches mixed with some short to intermediate routes. As of writing, Marquise Brown has a terrific case to make his first Pro Bowl, and he even has an outside shot at an All-Pro nod if he has two or three explosive games down the stretch. He also has a staggering number of touchdowns that match with his yards per game, both marks in the top 10. All in all, Brown is beginning to fulfill his potential, but the season is far from over.


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Ryan Potts is an avid football and baseball fan. He covers the NFL and Major League Baseball, focusing on the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Braves.