Targeting free safety in free agency was an expected constituent of the Jaguars’ offseason undertaking. Acquiring Sergio Brown, an unproven and underutilized five-year veteran defensive back, was less expected.
The tape on Sergio Brown is as indefinite as it is sporadic. Through five seasons, Brown has accumulated an entire eight passes defended and one interception. Brown also registered 75 tackles, most of which fell into his lap while he was on special teams.
On the surface, there’s no story. Sergio is a career back up who has been able to repeatedly net a roster spot with special teams play.
Beneath the surface, there still isn’t much to work with. It’s hard to assign Sergio Brown to a starting position based on his stats and tape alone. It’s even harder, after watching some of this film, to imagine that a team would make a play on Brown in free agency for any ambitions outside of special teams. The Jaguars, however, have a Josh Evans sized hole at free safety. Brown’s payday doesn’t exactly scream "back up," either. $7 million for three years makes it pretty clear that the team expects Brown to come into camp and fight for the starting free safety job.
Most Jaguars fans probably remember Sergio Brown as the scrub that got scorched for an 80-yard game winner at the hands of Cecil Shorts and Blaine Gabbert in 2012. Others might recall Rob Gronkowski offering Brown a private meet and greet with an NBC camera last season.
Somewhere between these notorious episodes, Sergio Brown has been able to substantiate the attributes that have allowed him a place in the league for half a decade. Sergio went undrafted in 2010, but landed with the Patriots as an UDFA. He contributed little more than nothing through two years, and was cut before the start of the 2012 season. When the Colts picked Brown up, Sergio saw limited opportunities in the Colts defense as a reserve safety.
Sergio Brown had started three times in 66 career appearances before he finally got his shot. Last season, when LaRon Landry got caught juicing, Brown was called up to fill Landry’s shoes for the length of the 4 game suspension. This is the era where most of Sergio Brown’s serviceable tape is found, and is also the most recent exhibit of Brown’s football capability. The conclusions I came to are as disseminated as they are pressurized.
Brown has made his living on special teams. He’s a cherished component, utilizing the same quality that makes him a serviceable safety – his wheels. Sergio has shown he can fly around the field, earning himself a ball hawk reputation rather than a great box player standing. Sergio’s biggest knock is his overzealous playing style.
At times, he’s too jumpy as a defender, which leads him into some dangerous territory on the turf. Coaches have repeatedly pointed out Brown’s need to relax on the field. My biggest concern is that Sergio spends too much energy hunting for the game instead of letting the game come to him.
However, these condemnations don’t entirely make up Sergio’s game. In his first start last season against Baltimore, Brown was able to contain the deep ball.
Below, Torrey Smith sets up to run a deep post.
Smith's route is highlighted in yellow. Sergio Brown, circled in red, is assigned the responsibility of providing safety help over the top.
Sergio Brown takes no time to recognize the deep threat. He gets on top of the route as Flacco scrambles to buy time for Smith to get open.
As the ball drops into the back of the end zone, Sergio is still on top of Smith. Brown's speed allows him a better play than the receiver on the ball.
Sergio is able to make contact with the back end of the pass, tipping it safely out of bounds. A big play opportunity dies quietly with a routine play from the free safety.
Sergio Brown advances to jumping around the endzone and into the stands as if he had executed some overly-spectacular deed. I'll abstain from analyzing this in favor of allowing you to come to your own conclusions.
The takeaways from this play are reassuring as well as unglamorous. Brown enjoys the ability to keep up with the burners, utilizing enough speed to cover every part of the field. The Jaguars gave up too many big plays last season, allowing receivers to expose holes in the secondary by getting behind the defense. Brown could be another step towards building a faster secondary.
In the play below, however, speed will only carry Brown so far.
Shane Vereen is going to run a little flat route. Sergio Brown starts on the other side of the field, playing the role of high safety.
The play is already busted by the time Vereen gets into open space. Brown is now the last line of defense, as free safeties often are, and must close off Vereen's left-sideline path to the end zone.
Brown deploys his speed to place himself in front of Vereen. In the frame above, it appears that Brown is in pretty good position. Brown's only responsibility at this point is to force Vereen out of bounds.
Instead, Brown tries to wrap up a RB moving at full speed.
Brown isn't going to win this battle.
Brown gets dropped faster than a hot brick. Luckily, replay shows that Vereen just barely stepped on the sideline during the process of smothering Brown into the turf. Speed and position will win you your spot in the battle, but neglecting to use your brain will leave you spread into the dirt like butter on toast.
Below, I have broken down the opposite scenario of the above play - a good decision, but bad position.
Sergio Brown starts out in the box. It's a one-deep pre-snap look for the Colts, and Dalton sets up his protection accordingly.
Right as Dalton initiates the snap, Brown drops and the deep safety blitzes the opposite side.
Now, Brown is the lone deep safety. This is dangerous territory. Despite the way he is facing, Andy Dalton has every intention of hitting Mohamed Sanu on a go route at the bottom of the frame. Dalton is trying to use his eyes to displace Brown, to no avail. Brown stays disciplined, leaning towards providing safety help to Sanu's one-on-one match-up.
This is the moment that Dalton releases the ball. Brown is on the correct side of the field, and now it's a race to the pigskin.
This is the moment that Sanu makes contact with the ball. From this angle, it looks like Brown was just a hair too late. It also looks like the corner has made a pretty decent play on the pass. A closer look reveals a little more, though.
From this closer angle, it is clear that the corner was in fact in decent position. Brown, however, has all but removed himself from the play. Brown has placed himself behind Sanu, allowing the corner to make a play on the ball while Brown performs clean-up duties.
On paper, this might sound like what the free safety is supposed to do in this situation. In reality, Brown made all of the right decisions leading up to making contact with Sanu, but failed when the pass was in a position to be contested. Had Brown taken a better angle to disrupt the pass, Sanu wouldn't have pulled the ball out of the air. Instead, Sanu wins the one-on-one, and Brown knocks him to the ground.
I didn't pick this play as an example of Brown's inadequacy. Rather, I broke down this play to showcase Brown's spasmodic tendencies for making good decisions. Often times Brown finds himself in the right position, but finishes the play with a lackluster effort. The Jaguars need a free safety who can attack the football. Brown can put himself into the right spot, but needs to work on disrupting the play rather than cleaning up.
It's worth reiterating at this point that Brown has the qualities you'd want in a free safety, but has not had enough playing time to combine all of these qualities and put them on tape. I have no reservations about Sergio Brown growing into a starting role, as long as he is able to connect the dots and play more consistently as he is gifted more opportunities. Brown is as raw as a five-year vet could be, but this doesn't take away from the experience he has accumulated.
While Brown might not have the most intimidating track record through his five years, he has learned how to be physical at an NFL level. And if nothing else, it is this physicality that will allow Brown to sprout into the role that the Jaguars probably anticipate him growing into.
Physicality is not confined to brute strength. Physicality, in my opinion, is best represented as being adaptable and flexible enough to overpower opponents, even when they are in better position than you. If there's one area where Brown has proved himself capable within his limited amount of tape, it is matching up against tight-ends. Brown's speed and fiery demeanor allow him to travel the field with ease, and this shows through even among the poor decisions he seems to find himself making. Brown's ability to out-position and overpower tight-ends, however, makes me believe there's probably a little bit more to work with here than what meets the film.
After meeting the Patriots twice last season, Serg claimed that he was able to "put Gronk in straps." I'm not exactly sure how accurate that statement is, but Brown does seem to possess a knack for being physical with the big guys. Below, Brown is in the box near the goal line.
Brown is covering Bengals tight-end, Gresham, in a man to man set.
It's a simple crossing route for Gresham. The idea is that the big tight end will find open field by losing Brown though traffic. Instead, Brown is able to keep up step for step.
Not only does Brown stay in position, he is able to make a play on the pass rather than trying to wrap up the tight-end himself.
Brown's physicality is probably his only notable takeaway because it indicates an underlying NFL aptitude that will have an impact on the player he grows into. Then again, perhaps the most pressing takeaway that I've gathered from searching way too hard and watching way too much Sergio Brown film is the scarcity of meaningful takeaways. After analyzing the entirety of Brown's game, I've come to the conclusion that it is in our collective best interest not to assign him to anything just yet. He's a free safety who has had limited opportunities.
The biggest question that backdrops Serg is whether or not he can steal the starting spot away from Josh Evans. Until I see more of Brown, I just don't feel confident answering that question. If you need help making your own conclusions on Serg, consider this probable truth -- this write-up is the most effort anyone has ever put into studying Sergio Brown. Probably for good reason. I refuse to mark a starting role as out of reach for the same reasons why I won't announce him as probable starter -- it's going to take more time.
The Jaguars desperately longed for a better option at free safety. It's unsettling to come to this conclusion, but I can't be sure that Sergio Brown can be that guy. What I am sure of, however, is that Brown will have every opportunity that Josh Evans does this offseason. There's depth at the position now, and all that's left is to get through the draft and see where that leaves Brown.
Brown's tools are as undefined as they are underutilized. Frankly, we just don't know if he can swim with the big fish. Give him two claps and throw him into the aquarium -- we'll soon see if he sinks or swims.