A proven practice in NFL roster development is churning the bottom of the roster and hoping the cream rises to the top. In this case, the Raiders have brought in former Cincinnati Bengal Preston Brown to ostensibly compete for a roster spot with Will Compton and the recently re-activated Marquel Lee.
The Raiders starting linebackers in their nickel defense is set with Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow locking down those spots. The Raiders are rarely in base personnel (4 defensive linemen, 3 linebackers, and 4 defensive backs), but when they are it has been Will Compton who has stepped in as the third linebacker over the past few weeks.
Preston Brown was waived by the Bengals on Nov. 12 because he wasn’t good enough to be the No. 2 linebacker. A scheme change from 2018 to 2019 didn’t help either. Let’s take a look at his game and project how he fits with the Raiders.
Going back to 2018, Brown played in the same scheme that is currently run in Oakland under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Believe it or not, the Bengals played him at Mike Linebacker in favor of Vontaze Burfict at times. He thrived in this position because the Mike linebacker is protected in Guenther’s scheme. The defensive linemen in front of Brown kept him clean to run to the football. Brown’s ability to diagnose where the ball is going and take great angles in pursuit is his calling card.
Even after a scheme change to start the 2019 season, Brown showed he can take great angles and has the range to play sideline to sideline. Starting off on the left side of the screen, Brown breaks on Russell Wilson’s pass and makes the tackle on the opposite side of the field. He also forces the fumble that Cincinnati recovers, a key reason why they were able to stay in that game Week 1.
The scheme change in 2019 asked Brown to play outside linebacker in favor of Nick Vigil at middle linebacker. Brown never looked comfortable on the outside. In the current Bengals defense, outside linebackers need to take on blocks, a trait that is certainly the poorest part of Brown’s game. Some of this is a technique issue. In the clip above, an All-Pro rep would involve a linebacker striking that pulling offensive lineman on his fourth step and blowing this play up for a loss.
For the sake of brevity, I’m only going to add two of these plays. Sadly, there are far too many examples of Brown dancing around blockers and not once was I able to find a rep where he actually initiates contact. The previous example could have been attributed to poor technique, but this one shows Brown simply does not want to attack blockers. Maybe he has an upper body injury, but this is the type of play that gets you cut from a team.
Brown had by far his best season in coverage in 2018. This is a source of optimism, because the Bengals ran the same scheme that Brown is coming into as an Oakland Raider. In seven games, Brown notched 4 passes defensed, including 2 interceptions. The rep above shows Brown in Hook/Curl coverage in Cover 3. He carries the seam vertical before getting his eyes on the QB and closing the window on the curl route. This is a better play than any Raiders linebacker has made in coverage this season.
The scheme change in 2019 didn’t do Brown any favors however and he wasn’t able to put together any quality plays against the pass. In this rep he’s is in man coverage. He leans on the TE and seems to expect an out route, but when the Baltimore pass catcher continues vertical, Brown inexplicably loses him and allows an easy throw and catch for a TD.
Brown is an easy mover, showing great change of direction abilities. He seems light on his feet even in his sixth NFL season. His speed shows up in pursuit of the ball carrier and when he makes tackles near the sideline.
As a third linebacker, Brown wouldn’t be a liability. Guenther’s defense rarely runs base personnel anyways, so if someone else can take on the blocks in front of him, Brown can use his ability to diagnose the play and takes great angles to the ball carrier.
If he beats out Will Compton and a returning Marquel Lee for this spot, expect to see Brown as the middle linebacker in 4-3 sets for a few snaps a game.