2021 NFL Draft: Journey Brown is the next great Penn State RB

Penn State's Journey Brown could be a first-round running back in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone, and we had many talented running backs get drafted from the collegiate level. Between the first and second days, there were a total of ten running backs added to the NFL. The 2021 tailback group could offer just as many first- and second-day selections, if not more. One of those potential early-round runners is Penn State’s Journey Brown. The talented Nittany Lion back is entering his redshirt-junior season as a super sleeper at the position.

Brown is the next in a long line of tremendous running back prospects to emerge from the confines of Happy Valley. He follows big names and high draft picks such as Ki-Jana Carter, Larry Johnson, Saquon Barkley, and, most recently, Miles Sanders. Below I will take a look at the “journey” Brown has traveled to become such an intriguing NFL prospect. He is not receiving the same attention as more highly touted prospects such as Clemson’s Travis Etienne, but it is only a matter of time before Brown is a household name in 2021 NFL Draft circles.

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How the “Journey” began for Brown

A local product out of Meadville High School in Meadville, Pennsylvania, Brown rushed for a prolific 2,791 yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior in 2016. He scored 51 touchdowns total, which led the entire state and earned him three-star prospect status, according to Rivals.com. Brown also won the 2016 PIAA Class AAA State Championship in the 100 meters with a time of 10.73 before committing to play college football at Penn State for the 2017 season.

Brown redshirted his freshman season with the Nittany Lions before playing a limited role in eight games during the 2018 campaign. He entered 2019 as the starter in a timeshare with the more heralded, true freshman running back Noah Cain. Brown was able to hold Cain off as a 10-game starter and rushed for 890 yards and 12 touchdowns during the 2019 season. Cain contributed 443 yards on the ground with eight scores as the 1B to Brown’s 1A in the backfield.

The two appeared almost neck and neck in the competition until the Cotton Bowl game in December against the Memphis Tigers. The incumbent Brown went ballistic in that game, setting a school bowl record of 202 rushing yards. That number broke former star Saquon Barkley’s record of 194 yards in the 2017 Rose Bowl against USC. Brown ran with power, great vision, and that electric breakaway speed that makes him such an exceptional prospect. This game put Brown in the catbird seat for good with the Nittany Lions and on the map for the 2021 NFL Draft class.

Brown had a breath-taking and dominant performance in the team’s 53-39 Cotton Bowl victory over Memphis. Take a look at this 50-plus yard touchdown run in the second quarter, as he showcases his game-breaking speed.

Later in the game, Brown showed off another underrated aspect of his game. His speed, along with his ability to break tackles and keep his legs moving, will make him very successful at the next level. His stiff-arm is absolutely devastating and almost reminiscent of Marshawn Lynch with the Seattle Seahawks.

The path to the first round continues

The talented running back appears to now hold Penn State’s running back record of 4.29 in the 40-yard dash, better than Barkley’s 4.33. As a former track star, you can tell that speed certainly translates to the football field. However, he is no longer a track player turned football player. Brown is a legitimate NFL prospect on the field and will be one of the top offensive prospects available following this 2020 college season.

In terms of an NFL comparison for the Nittany Lions’ budding star, a simple one would be the Giants’ workhorse Barkley, but that be a little too optimistic an association at this point. Current Philadelphia Eagles’ starter Miles Sanders is another local product out of Pittsburgh, and he also happens to be a tremendous athlete in his own right. Sanders would be a much better player to compare with Brown. Both players have nearly identical size and tackle-breaking ability. While Sanders may not possess the same game-breaking speed as Brown, he can undoubtedly separate from defenses, as shown below.

Sanders ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine and displayed terrific all-around athleticism and strength (36-inch vertical and 20 bench press reps). The Eagles’ runner is also in a fantastic spot to break out in his first full year as the projected starter for the Eagles in 2020, just as Brown figures to excel this season for PSU. Brown profiles as a second-day pick with the first-round upside, just as Sanders did before the 2019 NFL Draft.

If Brown can continue to progress as an inside runner and showcase more ability as a receiver, his draft stock will soar heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. He has the tackle-breaking ability and vision of his predecessors Sanders, Johnson, and Barkley, but his speed may be unmatched when it comes to former Penn State RB products. A statistical explosion is on the horizon for Brown in the Big 10, and his “journey” could lead him into first-round conversation next April.

Scott Gorman is a writer for PFN covering the 2021 NFL Draft. You can follow him at @sgormanPFN on Twitter.


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