Three former Fighting Illini have signed with NFL teams. Ryan Lankford is now a member of the Miami Dolphins, Evan Wilson is a Dallas Cowboy, and Jonathan Brown is headed to Phoenix to join the Arizona Cardinals.
Of all three signees, JB has far-and-away the greatest chance to make an NFL roster. Here's why: he's good. He's very good.
Brown's failings at the Draft were mostly a matter of size and speed, not necessarily performance. That's the way it goes with scouting prospects, and there's nothing wrong with that. The combine told teams that JB isn't fast, isn't overly agile, isn't overly strong, and isn't a lot of things. Would you draft that player?
He also has to deal with the stigma of being oft-injured (only somewhat true), a negative which seems to have fully blanketed any positives, such as he's a fantastic tackler (absolutely true).
After Illinois' pro day, I compared Brown's combine numbers and career statistics with former Arizona State linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, who went undrafted and now makes Pro Bowls. The numbers slightly favor Brown, but even with my bias, I can't honestly say I believe Brown is the better player. But I do believe he's a comparable case--a damn good football player, whose draft stock fell victim to a body type and a 40-time. Burfict is a pro bowler. Brown can, at the least, make a team. Hell, I'd take him.
Of course, for every Burfict or James Harrison, there's 75 busters who never made it past the first Oklahoma drill. They turn to dust and blow back home to coach high school. I don't expect this to happen, but the odds-makers in Vegas would say to put your money on the latter and take your free money.
For Arizona Cardinals fans reading this, here's what you can expect:
- JB has the instincts and energy necessary of a linebacker, and that's largely what allowed him to succeed at Illinois.
- He's not speedy, but he compensates with his cerebral, hard-hitting game.
- He would have succeeded on good college teams. Instead, he succeeded on awful Illinois teams, which impresses almost no one.
- He could have an advantage in camp, given that he's more polished than he is naturally talented. This could allow him to outperform faster, more raw players.
- He has to toe the line between getting bigger and not getting slower. He needs both to be a pro.
Enjoy your new Jonathan Brown, Cardinals. If you don't like him, pass him along to somewhere else, somewhere he'll stick. He's a not-so-great prospect, but an excellent football player. We hope he gives you the good stuff.
Best of luck, JB.