Notre Dame WR Chris Brown follows own advice as stock rises

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

He still has one foot in the college game, impacting the Notre Dame football program the way Chris Brown always did.

With his words, with his presence, with the high standard the former Irish wide receiver set for himself, even before the rest of the world had those kind of expectations of him.

Even as his own dreams are starting to come into focus, Brown continues to coax others toward theirs. That includes the player whom Brown sees as the up-and-comer in the 2016 receiving corps, freshman tight end Alizé Jones.

“Obviously, he’s extremely talented and probably wishes he had more production this year,” said Brown, one of three departing starters in ND’s receiver group. “I just let him know that you’ve got to have confidence. ‘Come in and be ready to take advantage of the moment when it comes.’ ”

Which is exactly the same advice Brown will give himself daily over the next three months leading up to the 2016 NFL draft, held April 28-30 in Chicago.

So far, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Hanahan, S.C., product is doing just that, parlaying a strong week of East-West Shrine Game practices and the showcase itself Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla., into draft momentum with NFL teams.

His next chance will come in the running, jumping and lifting fest known as the NFL Scouting Combine, Feb. 23-29 in Indianapolis.

Brown said he had meetings with 30 of the 32 during his week in Florida. He also received plenty of positive feedback from East head coach Charlie Weis, the former Irish head coach; former Irish QB Brady Quinn, a member of Weis’ East staff; and East receivers coach Troy Brown, a former standout receiver for the New England Patriots during a 15-year pro career.

“Coach Weis pushed us hard, because we were Notre Dame guys,” Brown said of himself and fellow Shrine Bowl teammates from ND, defensive end Romeo Okwara and safety Elijah Shumate. “Through working with Troy Brown, I was able to learn a lot.

“He was able to help me with my game as well as highlight the things I’ve done well. I was really excited to see the progress I’ve made at Notre Dame, the fact I’ve done a lot of things really well in his opinion. So it was nice to see I was one the right track.”

Specifically, Mr. Intangibles at Notre Dame was able to heighten his tangibles when given the platform to do so, and one he didn’t have to share with Will Fuller, ND’s leading receiver over the past couple of seasons.

In the East’s 29-9 loss to the West, Brown was one of his team’s most productive players. He had three receptions for a team-best 42 yards and a rush for six yards on a reverse.

That’s despite the West hogging the QB talent, with the Nos. 1 (Oregon’s Vernon Adams, Jr.), 2 (Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty) and 21 (Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld) in passing efficiency, nationally. The East was dealt Michigan’s Jake Rudock (37th), Wisconsin’s Joel Stave (75th) and UMass Blake Frohnapfel (96th).

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, after observing Brown last week, projected him as a fifth- or sixth-rounder.

At least seven of his teammates are expected to go before that juncture in the draft in what could turn out to be the largest draft class for Notre Dame in more than two decades.

Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and linebacker Jaylon Smith continue to be consensus first-round projections, even with Smith having undergone knee surgery earlier this month. Fuller is also a possible first-rounder.

Realistically 10 Irish players have a shot at getting selected in the seven-round affair, matching the number that came off the board in 1994. The last time there were more than 10 chosen was the 17-round, 1969 draft that produced 11.

The last time an ND draft contingent numbered more than 11, 13 players were picked in the 30-round draft of 1950.

Longer shots for the draft, linebackers Jarrett Grace and Joe Schmidt, slot receiver Amir Carlisle, safety Matthias Farley and comeback kid Ishaq Williams, a defensive end whose last collegiate game came in December of 2013, would push the ND draft number to a historic level.

However it turns out, it’ll be another tip of the cap to Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s player development model. Of the 10 players thick into the draft mix to be among the 250 or so players selected in April, only six of them were deemed top 250 players coming out of high school by Rivals.com.

And three of those six project much higher as potential draft picks then they did coming out of high school: Stanley, the No. 176 player in the 2012 class, Day No. 244 in 2012, and Fuller No. 176 in 2013.

Center Nick Martin, running back C.J. Prosise, Okwara and Brown didn’t make the top 250 in their respective classes.

“The crazy thing is I’ve always wanted to play in the NFL, and I knew Notre Dame would put me in a position to go to the NFL,” Brown said. “But it seemed like it wasn’t until the beginning of my junior year that it was a real possibility.

“I didn’t start off the best in my career. I had that one catch that everyone always talks about (against Oklahoma), but I had a lot of struggles. I really did, as far as dropping the ball and having confidence.

“I feel like when I really started to gain confidence in myself, that’s when my game evolved.”

He went from two catches for 56 yards his freshman season to 15 for 209 and a TD as a sophomore to 39 for 548 and a TD in 2014 to 48 for 597 and four touchdowns in 2015.

Brown’s game figures to translate better to the next level, where the hashes are only 18 feet, six inches apart as opposed to 40 feet apart in college. Since he generally lined up on the short side of the field, Brown didn’t have as much room to operate as he will when the short side and wide side are decidedly less pronounced.

“That was one of the fun things about the Shrine Game week experience,” he said. “There was a lot of space out there, and I feel like I utilized that space as well.”

Brown still has two classes to complete his degree requirements, which keep him on campus early in the week. But after class is out on Wednesdays, he heads to the Chicago area to train with Prosise at Elias Fitness Training, a facility with a strong ND connection over the past decade.

“I recognize the value of a Notre Dame education, so I was determined to work my training around finishing my classes,” he said.

It also keeps him close to the returning Notre Dame players, at least three days a week, which extends the legacy of his strong behind-the-scenes influence for a few more months.

“There are all different ways to lead,” Brown said. “From spring ball to fall camp and all the way through the season, that was the role I tried to fill. I didn’t have a (captain’s) ‘C’ on my chest, but I didn’t let it deter me from leading my teammates.

“Over my career, I tried to build relationships with all of my teammates, not just the receivers. I know what a difference confidence made in my career, so I try to bring that to them. I feel like I can inspire others, and that’s something I always hope I carry with me.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame’s Chris Brown (2) divses after catching a pass and gets tackled by Georgia Tech’s Jamal Golden (4) Saturday, September 19, 2015, during the Georgia Tech-Notre Dame football game at Notre Dame Stadium. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ