Zach Brown (North Carolina)
-- Courtesy of Bernard Thomas / The Herald Sun --
Height: 6010 Weight: 244 40 Time: 4.50 Bench: N/A Vertical: 33.5 Broad: 9’5
Final Grade: 8.6
Player Comparison: Ernie Sims
Projected Draft Position: First – Early Second
Before enrolling at North Carolina, Brown was a decorated high school athlete. Aside from being a star at running back and linebacker, Brown also went 29-0 as a champion wrestler and won the Class 3A title for both the 100- and 200-meter dash. For the final two years of prep school, Brown attended Hargrave Military Academy. As a true freshman in 2008, Brown served as a reserve linebacker and was a contributor on special teams. Brown would start six games the following season at weakside linebacker and set a school record in the indoor 60-meter dash as part of the Tar Heels track team. Despite starting just five games his junior season in 2010, Brown was second on the team in tackles and contributed in all 13 games. That same season, Brown served as a captain on special teams. There are questions regarding Brown’s effort on the football field, as well as inconsistency and his work ethic off the field, which is explaining of his laid-back personality in interviews.
As of recent, North Carolina has been a breeding ground for overly-athletic defensive football players. Brown is nothing shy of such, as he is arguably the rarest blend of athleticism we’ve seen from UNC in the past four or five years. As a multi-sport star in high school, Brown continued to demonstrate is athletic versatility in college as both a football and track star. Needless to say, Brown has blazing speed, especially for someone that weighs 244 pounds and his motion and movement is very natural. Brown could afford to add bulk, but being concerned with losing some of the speed is understandable. Brown plays with good balance and he is very explosive off the snap. Brown can cover from sideline-to-sideline to with impressive lateral speed and he is fluid in his hips when lined up against tight ends and/or receivers. It is Brown’s natural athleticism that could ultimately propel him into the first 32 picks.
Due to lack of bulk, Brown isn’t a very intimidating linebacker in terms of strength and being able to lay the lumber. Brown’s game is more centered around his ability to read a play and then use his elite speed to cover a wide range from sideline-to-sideline and attempt to make a play. In run support, Brown can sniff out a play, but sometimes struggles to get off blocks. As a pass-rusher, although gifted with solid pursuit to the football and/or quarterback, Brown is far from being an effective blitzer. On most successful quarterback hurries/knockdowns, Brown uses his speed and quickness to out-manuever the interior of an offensive line. Thanks to his speed and athleticism, Brown is solid in pass-coverage and can consistently handle tight end matchups. Brown’s range in all aspects is quite arguably his most impressive trait. He’s fastest in a straight-line, but Brown is a missle to the ball. Brown’s football knowledge is slightly underrated, as I see him as a very reliant read-and-reactor backer. His production was impressive in limited starts over four years, but Brown is known to go seemingly effortless through some games, raising concern regarding his consistency.
Brown is explosive off the snap with a burst that is comparable to a running back. With his ability to read plays quickly, Brown’s natural quickness and instincts get him the early jump in most matchups. When given the opportunity to make a play, Brown is typically a dependable tackler–although he lacks the square-up and drive style required to be considered dependable. Brown can lay the big hits, but it’s a direct result of being fast enough to be able to catch opponents off balance. That said, Brown’s bigger hits come via the missle method–jetting hard in one direction and throwing an unavoidable shoulder. Brown’s lack of bulk makes it hard for him to shed blocks consistently and he doesn’t use his arms effectively enough to separate from blockers. Brown’s ability to clog holes and running lanes is a direct result of his quick read and speed, as he can get to an area quicker than any other defender on the field. Brown’s agility allows for him to move through traffic, but he often relies solely on speed to avoid blockers or out-maneuver them. Although not the ideal size, I do believe Brown could be an effective ILB in the 3-4 with a strong backer alongside.
Despite his effective pursuit, no one can quite label him a pass-rushing threat. Brown’s speed creates a problem for quarterbacks, but it’s only that speed that Brown uses to take advantage of blockers. Brown’s pass-rushing repetoire is very limited and his path to the quarterback can become predictable. Brown is most effective when shooting through the interior by taking advantage of the guard and center. On blitzing downs, Brown becomes more of a terror because of his speed. Brown covers well for his position, speed and fluidity becoming defining characteristics. With the growth at the tight end position in the NFL, Brown’s ability to trace tight ends and make plays on the ball in coverage will be a large positive to his game. Brown is more than capable of pass-defending, even demonstrating above-average hands for the position. Brown appears more comfortable in zone, where he is given the brief opportunity to read. Although he’s capable of man-coverage, Brown is accustomed to lining up in the zone and taking his man three yards off line.
His experience and athleticism makes Zach Brown a more natural fit in a 4-3 scheme, however I think he can be very effective in a 3-4 alongside a strong backer. Brown has the speed and coverage skills necessary to handle the middle of the defense. Not to be confused with a workout warrior, Brown’s straight-line speed is far from his most impressive trait. Laterally, Brown has the ability to move side-to-sideline with good pursuit and anticipation. Taking bad angles are still an issue for Brown during pursuit, but it’s usually a result of his speed over-shooting his play. Brown is solid in zone-coverage, showing a quick plant and burst with the speed necessary to make a play on the ball. Although not terrible in man-coverage off the line, Brown is much more effective in zone and has more experience playing it. Brown is not the most intimidating linebacker. Despite being a good tackler, Brown isn’t known for laying big hits or being a heat-seeker in pass-rushing. Because he relies solely on speed to out-manuever his blockers, Brown’s moves become predictable and easily able to withstand. In blitz packages, however, Brown can take advantage of the outnumbering and use his speed to shoot the middle or rush the outside. Brown has valuable collegiate experience as a player and a leader. After contributing as early as his freshman season, Brown has developed and progressed in his four years at Chapel Hill and he has risen to the occassion when called upon. There is slight concern regarding Brown’s inconsistent effort, as he can disappear after being so dominant in games prior. As a result, Brown’s ability as a leader and positive locker room influence is brought into question. Like so many players before him, Brown is the common athletic standout from North Carolina that has the chance to creep into the first round based off athleticism alone. Brown’s football IQ is valuable and he has above-average ability to read a play and react, but that’s not what propels him past the second round. Having an inside linebacker with Brown’s speed and range make a defense very versatile in how they line him up and the assignments given to him. Brown is still growing as a player, but he’s a top linebacker in this draft.