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The Emergence of Keenen Brown

By Jim Johnson
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It seems so obvious now, in hindsight, that Brown could become what he has.

Texas State had a helluva hard time throwing the ball against Georgia Southern in week seven. To be fair, the same could be said for just about everyone the Eagles have lined up against this year, posting the second lowest allowed pass efficiency rating in the Sun Belt.

As such, they were finding it quite difficult to get their best offensive weapon, and arguably the best player on the field, involved in the action.

Entering the matchup, grad transfer tight end Keenen Brown, formerly an All-Big 12 Oklahoma State Cowboy, had posted the highest receiving grade in the entire nation at the position, according to Pro Football Focus, the sixth highest run blocking grade, and was their top rated tight end overall.

That was in large part due to his extraordinary playmaking ability in the open field, having forced twice as many missed tackles as any other tight end at that point, and racking up an average of nine yards after the catch, tops in the FBS as well.

Struggling to effectively target Brown through more traditional means, the Bobcats, still yet to score at that point, found themselves in desperate need of some instant offense. As the whose number needed to be called, the choice was clear.

Quarterback Willie Jones, who took over for freshman Tyler Vitt after the first half, led the offense out in a two receiver set, flanked to his left by one back, with Brown and another back offset behind him to either side.

After a quick check, Jones moved under center, the backfield emptied, Brown the lone option to his right, on the short side of the field, both backs and receivers in tight to his left.

Brown came in motion, took it on a quick end around, made one defender miss in the backfield, cut upfield between the numbers and the hash marks, looked like might get about five yards as he was surrounded by four more Georgia Southern would-be tacklers, only one of whom was being blocked, shifted into fifth gear, shook off a would-be tackle from Tomarcio Reese, arguably the Eagles’ best linebacker, and was eventually dragged down from behind about 61 yards later by Monquavion Brinson, one of the top defensive backs in the league, and maybe the only guy on the field that could have caught him, about four yards shy of the endzone.

Two plays later they dialed up the same call, from the initial set to the apparent check, just to the opposite side, for six points.

It was not a surprise to see that Brown was injecting some life into an otherwise ineffective Texas State offense, merely as to how he did it that specific time. Those were the first two rushing attempts of his career, after all. Sparingly used at Oklahoma State in any capacity, it appears that Everett Withers and his staff have only scratched the surface of Brown’s full potential. A growing assortment of talents at his disposal, an untapped arsenal of weapons in his bag of tricks, only time will tell how high his ceiling truly is.

He came out of high school as a four star wide receiver in the class of 2014, ultimately choosing the Cowboys amidst 20 total FBS offers, including the likes of Florida, LSU, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, among others.

One of the top 50 wideouts in that class, and the 35th overall prospect from the state of Texas, coming out of Alief Taylor in Houston, Brown boasted a verified 4.5 40-yard dash and 38-inch vertical. Coupled with plus ball skills and a particular efficacy working the middle of the field due to his advanced usage of that big body and natural strength, it was easy to see why he was so sought after as a possession receiver.

In the time since then, with his move to tight end, he has managed to add a good 50 pounds to his 6’3 frame, whilst maintaining the top end speed and explosiveness that made him so enticing as a receiver prospect. His ability as a pass catcher was always readily apparent, and the tight end position suits his skillset a little better stylistically anyways. His emergence as one of the game’s best pass catchers is far less surprising than his willingness, to some extent, but even more so his capability as a run blocker.

Bear in mind, Brown has only been playing the position for going on three years now.

The only tight end that matches his physical profile, from a size-speed-explosion standpoint, using the NFL Combine numbers dating back to 2000, is future Hall of Famer Vernon Davis. The real shame in this whole experience is that it took so long for anyone to recognize how genuinely special Brown could be if properly developed.

The change of scenery has been good for Brown. Even on a team entangled in an ongoing quarterback controversy, leading to great inconsistency behind center, he has managed to rank in the national top five in yards per game by a tight end, and the only guy ahead of him with more touchdowns is Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger.

He’s also one of just ten players now that have at least four receiving touchdowns and a rushing score.

Keenen Brown has kind of come out of nowhere. Highly touted, sure, but underutilized at his former school, one could have assumed things just didn't pan out for this guy. And they would have been wrong.

It seems so obvious now, in hindsight, that Brown could become what he has. Gifted with once-in-a-generation physical attributes for a tight end, all he needed was a little polish. Relatively speaking, he’s still pretty new to this position, and that may, more than anything, say the most about what he’s doing.

A top flight run blocker with the mentality and disposition to hold his own against Sun Belt defensive linemen, all the while developing into the pass catcher that made him a blue chipper four years ago, it’s not unreasonable to say that Brown has been the best tight end in the country this season, especially factoring in some of the extenuating circumstances around him.

Coaches make mistakes sometimes. Oklahoma State’s loss has been Texas State’s gain. And Keenen Brown’s stock is still rising.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP