Following in the footsteps of Chicago Bears’ 2022 second-round pick Jaquan Brisker, does Penn State S Ji’Ayir Brown have a strong enough 2023 NFL Draft scouting report to challenge for an early-round selection? In this year’s safety class, anything is possible, and at the very least, Brown is in the conversation.
Ji’Ayir Brown NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Safety
- School: Penn State
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height/Weight: 5’11”, 210 pounds
- Length: 31 1/4″
- Wingspan: 75″
- Hand: 10 1/8″
Brown’s explosive emergence in 2021 made it feel like he was at Penn State much longer than he actually was. In truth, Brown didn’t arrive on the Nittany Lions’ campus until 2020, after spending two seasons at Lackawanna Community College, under head coach Mark Duda.
Brown was teammates with Brisker at Lackawanna during the 2018 season, before Brisker made the leap to the FBS level. He was a year behind Brisker, but you couldn’t tell by the tape. Brown put up five interceptions and three deflections in his first year with the Falcons. In his second year, he added three picks and five more pass breakups.
Two years of top-notch production earned Brown a three-star recruit billing on the JUCO circuit. That billing, along with his connection to Brisker, carried him to Penn State. And after a year of mainly special teams and rotational action, he burst onto the scene in 2021.
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You won’t find many safeties with more impressive numbers than Brown. In 2021, he logged 73 tackles, a TFL, six picks, five pass deflections, and a forced fumble. The 2022 season saw him add on 74 tackles, seven TFLs, 4.5 sacks, four picks, three deflections, and two more forced fumbles.
Also impressive are the reported numbers on the practice field. Brown was featured on Feldman’s Freaks in the summer of 2022, with a documented 4.44 40-yard dash, a blistering 3.99 pro shuttle time, and a max bench of 370 pounds.
All of the contextual information leans in support of the 23-year-old rookie, but what does the tape say, and how do those numbers translate? Let’s take a closer look, and discern Brown’s role at the next level.
Ji’Ayir Brown Scouting Report
- Has a dense, compact frame with good mass and solid proportional length.
- Shows great explosive capacity when attacking downhill and flashes good range.
- Urgent short-area athlete with solid foot speed, lateral burst, and twitch.
- Possesses enough hip fluidity to undergo 90-degree transitions and open his strides.
- Quick processor who swiftly identifies route concepts and can flow to the ball in space.
- Able to pass off and carry receivers in zone with his smooth short-area athleticism.
- Flashes excellent play-recognition ability and can snuff out quick swings and screens.
- Able to follow the QB’s eyes in zone and adjust positioning with short-area athleticism.
- Brings swift closing burst into contact in the box and aggressively engages as a tackler.
- Natural playmaker who gravitates to the ball and can convert at the catch point.
Areas for Improvement
- Initial explosiveness is visibly non-elite, sometimes requiring a runway to gear up.
- Doesn’t often play to his timed speed and appears to max out in space at times.
- Can be more anticipatory in box coverage, sometimes playing himself out of position.
- Sometimes a tick late to respond to in-breaking routes in zone and off-man.
- Hips appear a bit stiff at times, contributing to a slight hitch when matching upfield.
- Can play too tall on his backpedal and lacks elite matching ability in man.
- Can be too hasty cutting across-face against blocks, opening running lanes.
- Occasionally bounces off of opponents at contact and can better wrap up.
- Sometimes overshoots pursuit angles in space and doesn’t have elite recovery.
Penn State S Ji’Ayir Brown Current Draft Projection
Like several other safeties in the 2023 NFL Draft class, Brown grades out on the Day 2 fringe, as a potential late Day 2 or priority Day 3 prospect. Odds are, without an all-star showing to back him up, he could fall to Day 3, depending on his testing. In that range, Brown has the traits to exceed his draft billing in the right role.
Testing shouldn’t be an issue for Brown, who’s on record with very good speed and agility metrics. On the field, those numbers don’t always match up perfectly. While Brown has great explosiveness and above-average range, he’s not a burner. And despite good short-area twitch, he lacks elite flexibility and change of direction.
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Brown keeps his output steady with strong play-recognition ability, willing physicality, and exceptional playmaking ability. However, there’s a strong argument to make that he doesn’t have an elite trait in his arsenal. He’s well-sized, intelligent, and valuable in both phases, but his ceiling may be capped a bit.
Nevertheless, with his size, explosiveness, and physicality, Brown translates very well in run defense. With his experience in two-high, single-high, and the box, he’s equipped to handle a various amount of zone looks in coverage. He’s likely best as a two-high strong safety at the next level, and while Brown doesn’t have elite upside, he can be an above-average starter if given the opportunity.