The Las Vegas Raiders are no strangers to fifth-round revelations. From Eric Barton, Rod Coleman, Shane Lechler to most recently Hunter Renfrow and Nate Hobbs, the Silver & Black have plucked some diamonds out of the rough in that particular stanza of the NFL Draft.
Jayon Brown was once upon a time a fifth-round gem by the Tennessee Titans back in 2017. A linebacker that’s equal parts quality run defender and cover man when he burst onto the scenes out of UCLA, Brown’s bright flame dimmed as injuries affected both his availability and effectiveness when on the field.
Yet, the Raiders are no strangers to reclamation projects so, it’s only right the Silver & Black took a flier on the once-impactful linebacker — especially since Vegas’ own LB crew lacks quality depth. If Brown returns to the form he displayed during his first three seasons as a Titan, his addition to the roster will be a shrewd move for the Raiders.
Las Vegas added Brown during the initial phase of free agency with a one-year, $1.25 million contract with $500,000 guaranteed. It’s a low-cost flier signing that has potential for a high reward. In his five seasons with Tennessee, Brown racked up 385 total tackles (251 solo, 134 assisted) with 9.5 sacks (18 quarterback hits), four interceptions (28 passes defensed), four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries as a starting inside linebacker.
Brown’s experience in the 3-4 base scheme deployed by the Titans makes him a potential seamless transition to the Raiders scheme that will be a 3-4 base with versatility. Vegas defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and Tennessee head honcho Mike Vrabel both have philosophies rooted in the New England Bill Belichick-approach, so there will be a bit of familiarity for Brown in the desert.
New Raiders linebacker coach Antonio Pierce even name-dropped Brown during a post-mandatory camp session press conference.
“Good. Eager group that’s hungry to learn, a championship mentality just from the work ethic,” Pierce said on his early impressions of the linebacker group. “Obviously, we got leadership there with (Divine) Deablo, Denzel Perryman and Jayon Brown.”
But herein lies the kicker: The linebacker played in 66 of the 81 games in his career so far with 39 starts. An elbow injury scuttled most of his 2021 season with the Titans as he saw the last amount of snaps — 420, 67 percent of Tennessee’s total defensive snap count — in his career in the 10 games he played (six starts). His rookie season in 2017 saw Brown earn 487 snaps in 16 games and no starts. Brown landed on injured reserve in November of 2020 and October of 2021. Before that, he was an every-down starter in the games he appeared in.
There was prevailing notion Brown’s lack of bulk at 6-foot, 226 pounds contributed to him getting dinged up, however, that didn’t hinder him before the injury bug. And his build is in-line with the NFL linebackers of today.
“I was a small linebacker coming out, 6-1 and 228. I was considered small,” Pierce said of the evolution of the position from his playing days. “Linebackers now, they’re around 220 and that’s okay. And I think just the ability for these guys to play all three downs, to be able to cover. Obviously, your elite tight ends, running backs and maybe a slot receiver, that’s changed. When I played it was 21 and 12 personnel, downhill. I was going up against Larry Allen and Emmitt Smith my rookie year and I was like, ‘Wow.’ You don’t really see that anymore. The game is more perimeter, vertical, not so much downhill smash mouth football.”
Brown could certainly cover in the early-portion of his career as he was a nuisance against the passing game, a force rushing the passer and a stonewall defender against the run from in 2018 and 2019. According to Pro Football Reference, Brown allowed completion percentages of 62.5 percent, 68.7 percent during that two-year span allowing zero touchdowns and intercepting two passes. Quarterbacks sported 67.1 and 77.7 passer ratings when targeting Brown. His 2020 season, however, saw Brown sport a 72.4 percent completion clip with five touchdowns surrendered. QBs had a much better rating that year with 115.3 throwing Brown’s way. The 2021 campaign for Brown was equally as ineffective as his 80 percent completion rate shows while allowing a touchdown in coverage.
However, like several other defenders on the Raiders roster, this offseason is a clean slate. And if he sports a clean bill of health and returns to his early form, Brown has a solid chance of competing for a starting spot and significant snaps alongside perceived starting inside linebacker Denzel Perryman — who arrived to Vegas last season with injury concerns of his own but when on to start 15 games and led the Raiders in tackles (154 combined, 102 solo). Perryman found his footing in Silver & Black and made the Pro Bowl as a 29-year-old who played his first six season with the Chargers.
Brown has the starting experience and along with that comes being a sound communicator and leader who can get the entire defense lined up. Couple that with Perryman and the Raiders could have a solid 1-2 combo at inside linebacker with a hammerhead tackling machine (Perryman) and a cover option in Brown.