A quick Google search for Blair Brown’s name can be confusing.
The first and main result doesn’t show Ohio’s Blair Brown, the hard-hitting linebacker that stuffed opposing running attacks all year.
Rather, the results display the actress Blair Brown. It takes until the third search result to find the Brown that will be taken in next week’s NFL draft.
But maybe that’s fitting for Brown — the Brown formerly of the Bobcats, that is.
He started his senior season unknown by nearly the entire college football landscape. Then he began to turn heads as his season progressed, which helped lead Ohio to one of the best run defenses in college football.
Now, he’s quite possibly the most underrated player in the 2017 NFL draft. It’s at the point where it’s safe to say his name won’t be third on Google’s search page for long.
Blair Brown has always been underrated.
Before his senior season, opposing offenses seemed more intent on stopping middle linebacker Quentin Poling or defensive end Tarell Basham. Brown wasn’t who teams were concerned about.
“It really wasn’t big until after the season, until I really started hearing that I could really do something in the league,” Brown said.
But in each of Ohio’s games last season, Brown was there. Sometimes he was a heat-seeking missile off the edge; other times he was stuffing SEC offenses up the middle.
“I was watching Tennessee live, and I was like, ‘I don’t care what his pre-draft grade was, this kid can play. I hope no one else knows about him,’ ” Mike Boyer, Brown’s agent, said. “He tackled Alvin Kamara in the backfield a couple times, was blitzing efficiently and his athleticism jumped out.”
To those who know or have watched him play, Brown’s rise isn’t surprising. He finished his senior season with 128 total tackles, including 15 for losses and 4.5 sacks. He played and started all 14 games.
Ohio LB Blair Brown having a strong combine.— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) March 5, 2017
He ranked 3rd in run stop percentage. Made a play once every 6.4 snaps. Missed just 2 tackles.
Ohio’s defense finished sixth in run defense last season.
“He’s very physical, he blows up plays at the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow said during the season. “Really, against the run game, that’s what you need.”
Brown started his senior season unranked, or in some cases, not even listed on popular draft websites. But as his season progressed, the powerful linebacker began to make a name for himself.
“In the media, you Google his name and he’s, like, the 10th linebacker,” Boyer said. “That is what it is, because he’s playing on Wednesdays or Thursdays, guys may be missing him because he doesn’t have stickers on his helmet from the team in Columbus.”
There may not be a better example of Brown’s play than the 2016 MAC Championship Game. All eyes were on Corey Davis, the stud receiver from Western Michigan who is projected to go in the first round. He delivered, catching nine balls for 155 yards and a touchdown.
Yet there was Brown, with 11 tackles, which tied for a game high. The Broncos only rushed for 2.6 yards per carry. They were simply unable to run on Brown and the Bobcats defense.
Brown might be the draft’s most prospect, a steal for a team that snags him in the middle-rounds of the draft. In reality, however, he’s been there all along. He’s just now being noticed.
Even to people that watched during the season, the amount of praise Brown has received over the last few months has been staggering.
Brown was selected to the 2016 Pro Football Focus All-American Team for his standout season. Reuben Foster and Stacy Thomas also were selected at linebacker. Thomas is back at Louisville, while Foster has been projected to be selected as high as No. 2 overall in next week’s draft.
“We have a stat called run stop percentage, which measures how often a defender makes a tackle on a run play that constitutes a ‘loss’ for the offense so that it is in a worse position in terms of down and distance than on the previous play,” Zoltan Buday, the Group of 5 lead analyst for Pro Football Focus, said in an email in February. “Brown ranked third among inside linebackers (15.5 percent).”
Brown was the only MAC player selected to the team. Not even Davis made the first team.
“I just try not to focus on stuff like that,” Brown said. “It’s not up to the people that are writing those things — it’s up to the coaches and the general managers and the head coaches and the position coaches of NFL teams.”
But even with the praise, there remains a concern about Brown’s physical ability. He stands just 5-foot-11 and weighs only 238 pounds. In the NFL, inside linebackers, where Brown is projected to play, average 6-foot, 235 pounds.
Then at the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash, higher than the average 4.7 and tied for fifth at the Combine. He leaped 37 inches, second-highest for linebackers. He ran a 4.18 20-yard shuttle, third highest for linebackers at the Combine.
“It was being there, seeing all of the guys, that they were basically just like me,” Brown said of the Combine. “Everybody else was just as nervous as I was, we had to just go out there and do what we had to do to be successful.”
After posting some of the best numbers for a linebacker at the Combine, Brown saw immediate results. He had 21 interviews in Indianapolis, and the idea of getting drafted became more than just wishful thinking.
His YouTube video, which had only a handful of views before the combine, had views in the thousands once the combine was over.
“I was a nervous wreck all the way until lining up for my 40,” Brown said, smiling. “I got in my stance and I was just like, ‘I’ve got to go. I’ve been running since I was 5 years old, playing football since I was 5 years old.’ It was just exactly what I’d been doing since I was a kid.”
His showing at the combine got the attention of just about every NFL team, as well as NFL draft analysts. Brown is consistently heralded as one of the most underrated or undervalued prospects in the draft. It’s routine to find Brown’s name attached to an article with the word “sleeper” in the headline.
Brown is now projected as a mid-round draft pick with the potential to be selected in the third round.
The months when no one knew who Brown was seem like decades ago.
“I 100 percent turned a lot of heads at the combine,” he said. “People knew about me, but nobody really knew about me I guess. People didn’t know that I was the type of athlete that I am. I just kind of turned a lot of heads going out there and showing my athleticism.”
His athleticism is one of his best traits, but Brown was quick to point out that, in addition to that, he had one other trait that made him stand out.
“My will to come down and take heads off,” he said.
His underdog mentality hasn’t been shaken just yet.
Today, he’s back to training for the rest of his life in his home state of California. He’s working out at EXOS, along with 22 other draft hopefuls waiting for their chance to shine on Sundays. Maybe there’s another player like Brown who the football world just hasn’t seen yet.
“The tape don’t lie, as they say,” Boyer said. “He’s underrated on paper, but the scouts who know what they’re doing, I believe, have him ranked comfortably high.”
Brown might end up in his home state of California, or he might end up in Ohio with his 2-year-old son. Wherever he ends up, a team that likely had no idea what Brown was capable of in August will get the run-stuffing linebacker they crave.
"Brown was probably the best tackling linebacker in the entire nation in 2016," Buday's email continued.
And in May, when he walks through the door for rookie mini-camp, for the first time in a long time, everyone will know exactly who Blair Brown is. They won’t even need Google.