When the Chargers drafted Akron linebacker Jatavis Brown this offseason, they couldn’t have envisioned he’d be this good, this fast. McCoy knew Brown lives and breathes football, that was one reason they got him, but he was also selected to add complementary depth at the LB position, adding a player with skills no other (veteran) linebacker on the roster had – a combination of great athleticism and coverage abilities.
Brown stood out in college with incredible explosiveness and above average closing speed, being able to go sideline-to-sideline without apparent effort. Starting all games at WILL linebacker in his senior year for the Zips, he was awarded the 2015 MAC Defensive Player of the Year and set season records for tackles for loss (20) and sacks (12). Additionally, he looked natural when asked to drop into coverage.
At 5’11” and 221 lbs, Brown is a hybrid fit between safety and linebacker, which raised concerns how he’d be able to handle blocks at a NFL level. Furthermore, there seemed to be a consensus that he needed to improve his consistency in tackling, especially against bigger opponents. Still, considered a versatile option in sub packages and as an immediate special teams contributor, Brown was projected to go as early as the third round. The Chargers got him in the fifth at 175 overall, which, in hindsight, looks like a steal!
In a first interview with the Chargers, Brown said the team told him they wanted to use him as a dime backer and Brown added he could play inside in a 3-4. As soon as rookie mini-camp it became clear this was the position the Chargers intended to use him, even though they kept listing him as OLB. Brown made a great impression in training camp, both with the team and the fans. Therefore, it was unfortunate he was injured during most of the preseason.
In a limited amount of 27% of the defensive snaps in the season opener against the Chiefs, Brown immediately showed flashes of his abilities with two noticeable plays:
- On a 3rd & 4 he ran with RB Charcandrick West on a wheel route down the sideline, forcing an incompletion. The Chiefs had to settle for a FG.
- On a 3rd & 5 in a blitz package, Brown stopped when he realized he couldn’t get to the QB, kept a close eye on him and jumped for the ball an a short throw over the middle. He was very close to making an interception.
It didn’t take long for Jatavis to get the nickname “third down Brown”. It was accurate in the sense that he only saw the field on obvious passing downs and all his stats in the first two games of the season were pass tackles (5) and pass deflections (2).
Brown had his breakthrough game in week 3 against the Colts. It’s unfortunate another player had to go down for it, but it was the silver lining of Manti Te’o‘s season ending injury. Surprisingly, his snap count percentage (44%) didn’t go up compared to week 2 (47%), but in a changed role as Te’o’s replacement he made two impact plays:
- On a 1st & goal from the 6, Brown got initially beaten by the tight end, but had the speed to close the gap and prevent a catch and touchdown. That’s something Manti Te’o would never have been able to do. The Colts eventually had to settle for a FG.
- The sack and forced fumble late in the 2nd quarter, where Brown ripped the ball out of Luck’s hands. Caraun Reid scooped up the ball and returned it for a TD, which tied the game at half time.
He also recorded his first rush tackles of the season (3), all against Frank Gore, one of the more physical running backs. With his performance, he was the highest graded (88.0) Chargers’ defensive player by Pro Football Focus. “Brown a star in the making?” they added.
In week 4 vs. the Saints – where Brown made his debut as a starter (defensive snap count of 93%) – and week 5 vs. the Raiders- he continued to contribute against the run. With solid open-field tackles against Tim Hightower and a scrambling Derek Carr – twice, one for a sack – Brown further eased concerns about his reliability tackling bigger opponents.
Whether Brown got inspired by those awesome color rush uniforms or not, his performance vs. the Broncos last week was just lights out. Not only did he play 100% of the defensive snaps, he was all over the field making plays the entire game. He finished with an insane 13 tackles (seven pass, six rush), one assist, a sack, and a forced fumble. The latter two came at a perfect time and were undoubtedly huge impact plays:
- Late in the 4th quarter with the Bolts hanging on to a two-score lead, and one play after they got lucky with a nullified touchdown because of an offensive holding penalty, Brown exploded around the edge and sacked QB Trevor Siemian, resulting in a 10 yard loss and effectively putting the Broncos out of FG range.
- On the next play, Brown forced a turnover when his hit on WR DeMaryius Thomas knocked the ball loose, which was then recovered by CB Craig Mager.
Like in week 3, Jatavis Brown was the highest graded defensive player on the team (85.5) by Pro Football Focus, and additionally, he was the PFF Game-Ball Winner. Brown’s stock is rising fast.
In an interview last year with Dane Brugler from NFLDraftScout.com, one of his replies was: “I am versatile. I can do it all, honestly. Not to sound cocky, but I can be a run stopper, rush the passer, run with receivers down the field. I love special teams – they want me focusing on defense so they don’t let me play special teams this year.”
At this point it feels hard to argue with his comment. He’s already shown he can do it all, even at a NFL level. His last sentence is interesting, by the way, because it appears to be true for the Chargers as well. His special teams snaps have dropped from 14 in week 1, to four in week 3, to zero since he became a starter in week 4.
I have been a passionate Bolts’ fan since 2006 and I can’t recall a more versatile and exciting linebacker than Jatavis Brown. If he keeps playing at this level, he should be a future pro bowl performer for the Chargers.