At NFL Combine, WR Equanimeous St. Brown has to answer for dip in production

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS —For the first time in a long time, Equanimeous St. Brown almost welcomed the incessant and trite line of questioning about the origins of his name.

And the new wave of them involving his outspoken/body-building/fashion-designing father, John Brown, and the comparisons of him to bombastic basketball patriarch LaVar Ball, brought on by the St. Brown/Brown family’s recent appearance on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

“I could see that,” the former Notre Dame wide receiver and aspiring NFL target said for the record, regarding Ball, Friday at an NFL Combine media session.

But when a media member followed up with a question probing the essence of John Brown’s personality — offering only options of pushy or overbearing — St. Brown stared him down and emphatically answered, “Loving.”

If nothing else, those discursions help defer the question with the most difficult answer and the ones NFL decision-makers want to know the most between now and the April 26-28 NFL Draft: What happened to St. Brown in 2017?

One of two true junior early entries from Notre Dame in this draft cycle and one of five Irish players invited to the combine at Lucas Oil Stadium this week, St. Brown was ND’s leading receiver each of the past two seasons.

But in 2017, while the Irish more than doubled their win total to 10, St. Brown’s catches dropped from 58 in 2016 to 33, his receiving yards 961 to 515 and his TD receptions from nine to four.

“I just say we had a whole new offense, new staff, clean slate,” St. Brown rattled off when it finally came up. “We were more of a running offense this year and (had) a lot of young guys.”

The weirdest question/request St. Brown has had to field so far during his time in Indianapolis?

“How long can I keep my eyes open (without blinking)?” St. Brown fired back — without blinking.

The answer? Roughly 15 seconds.

“They timed me,” St. Brown explained.

Opening others’ eyes on Saturday certainly would help St. Brown’s draft stock. Like fellow ND three-and-out junior, running back Josh Adams, St. Brown’s draft range is wide and still quite fluid.

“I think best case is he’d probably be a second- or third-rounder,” draft analyst Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com said of the oldest of three talented wide receiver brothers, “but I think he had a lot to gain by going back and putting together one more big, consistent season under a more polished (quarterback) Brandon Wimbush.”

Adams on Friday, a day after proclaiming to the media how healthy he was, skipped all the running, jumping and agility drills. He’ll get a second chance at Notre Dame’s Pro Day on March 22. Adams did put up 18 reps at 225 pounds Thursday in the bench press.

St. Brown did 20 on Friday, fourth-best among wide receivers and four off the position-group pace set by West Virginia’s Ka’Raun White. St. Brown’s total was also two more than teammate Durham Smythe, a tight end, did on Friday.

Training with both his father at home and at Stars Performance Training Center back in his hometown of Anaheim, St. Brown also added 11 pounds of muscle since the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl win over LSU and is now carrying 214 pounds on his 6-foot-4¾ frame.

“Being too heavy is not an issue with me,” he said. “I want to be more physical.”

He said he’ll show off his speed Saturday in the 40-yard dash and the agility drills, but will wait to do the vertical jump and standing broad jump at ND’s Pro Day.

ND’s two projected first-rounders, offensive guard Quenton Nelson and offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, each were late scratches from their 40-yard dashes on Friday morning and each cited concerns about tight hamstrings.

St. Brown said in preparing mentally for the combine, he sought the advice of former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, a second-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in last year’s draft.

“People made it seem more stressful than it was,” St. Brown said. “I was preparing for some crazy stuff. It’s not too crazy. Finding time to eat, get enough food has been the biggest challenge.”

Maybe he’s just gotten used to being handed constant challenges from his father and being expected to handle them. The same goes for Equanimeous’ younger brothers, Osiris (a redshirted freshman at Stanford) and Amon-Ra (an incoming freshman at USC)

“We live in Orange Country, which is a suburb and a real nice area and gives my sons a chance for a better life than I had,” Brown told the Tribune during Equanimeous’ freshman season at ND, “but I didn’t want it to make them weak.”

So Brown took them into the past, his past, to Compton, Calif. — a city that exudes toughness, and danger, and reality, but also a stunning allotment of success stories, including Brown’s.

“Every weekend,” he said, “since the kids were 5 years old, I’d take them to Compton to play football with those kids and work out with those kids and toughen them up.”

But he also taught them to dream and how to go after those dreams.

“When we were younger, we all told him that we wanted to play in the NFL,” St. Brown said, “so he took it upon himself to do the best he could to help us get there.

“He’s been learning along the way, just as I have. I’m the first one. I’m going to take the next step soon, and I’m ready for it.”

Notre Dame wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown participates in the bench press at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, Friday in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/GREGORY PAYAN)