(Editor's note: More than 320 standout college players put their skills on display at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. From that group will come the majority of young men who will hear their names called during the 2011 NFL Draft in April. Buccaneers.com was at the Combine, and during the weeks leading up to this year's draft, we will be taking a closer look at some of players who participated in six days of workouts, interviews and medical evaluations in Indianapolis. This series is NOT meant to reflect any specific opinions of the actual draft decision-makers in the Buccaneers' player personnel department. Any mention of draft-board status or a player's strengths and weaknesses are from outside sources, not the team's own scouting work. Next up in our series is Curtis Brown, one of several cornerbacks from the University of Texas who may be in demand early in the draft.)
Curtis Brown is not likely to be the first cornerback selected in the 2011 NFL Draft; that distinction will probably belong to LSU's Patrick Peterson. Nebraska's Prince Amukamara is also considered a potential top-10 pick, while most mock drafts – at least the ones that extend past the first round – expect Brown to come off the board in the second or third round.
The more intriguing question: Will Brown be the first cornerback from the University of Texas to be selected?
Three Longhorn corners are on the NFL scouting radar as the draft approaches. Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams could easily be snatched up in the first half of the draft; Chykie Brown might be more likely to find a home in Day Three, when rounds 4-7 are conducted. The three former teammates don't see it as a race, however.
"We push each other, yes, but competition?" said Curtis Brown. "We don't look at it like that. It's competition with everyone else but we're just trying to make each other better."
All three Texas corners were at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February, and all three acquitted themselves nicely. The two Browns, for instance, had the top two scores among cornerbacks in the 20-yard shuttle run, which tests a player's lateral quickness and explosion in short areas. Curtis Brown also did quite well in the vertical leap and the broad jump. Williams nailed the broad jump, in particular.
"We'll see when the times and stuff come out," said Curtis Brown when asked whether he or Williams should be considered the top prospect. "But as football players I think we both feed off each other. He's the type of football player that I need to learn from, and he learns from me aspects of the game that he might not be as good at. Just like he's a better tackler and better at the fundamentals. We just feed off each other, and also Chykie Brown…we all learn from each other."
If Curtis Brown goes first among the three Longhorn DBs, it may be because he has long been considered an elite athlete. As a prep in Gilmer, Texas he was considered one of the best prospects in the nation, though not everyone agreed on what position he should play at the next level. After playing cornerback as a sophomore, he had been used primarily at wide receiver and running back the next two years and a lot of schools wanted to bring him in as a receiver. Only Big 12 rivals Texas and Oklahoma recruited him as a cornerback, and that made his decision to stay close to home easier.
It didn't necessarily make his transition to the next level easier, however. He found a home on special teams right away but didn't really become a full-time starter until the beginning of his 2009 junior campaign. He still ended up starting 28 of the 52 games in which he played, recording career totals of 120 tackles, two interceptions and 32 passes defensed.
Brown opened four of the last six games in his 2008 sophomore season, too, and in his first start he was matched up with Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, a future NFL first-round pick. On the last play of the game, Brown swatted away a pass intended for Bryant in the end zone, preserving the Longhorns' 28-24 win.
Along the way Brown acquired the nickname "Turkey," but in his junior year some teammates took to calling him, "The Cat," because of his amazing balance. You can't knock him off his feet, they said. In scouting circles, he was also tabbed as a late-bloomer, and this too was due to his acknowledged athletic talents. Brown held his own against the likes of Bryant and Michael Crabtree – not to mention teammate Jordan Shipley in practice – but he wasn't a second-team all-conference pick until his senior year and he collected just those two interceptions in his career.
At the Senior Bowl in January, however, Brown was identified as one of the few bright spots in the defensive backfield. He took some chances and got beat on a couple double-moves during the practice week, but he also showed very good functional speed and the ability to shadow any receiver in the field in Mobile. At the Combine, in addition to his expected fine showing in the testing drills, he showed soft hands, a smooth transition out of his backpedal and the sort of start-and-stop agility a top cornerback needs. He also routinely caught the ball it its high point, as interceptors are taught to do.
The 5-11.5, 185-pound Brown is also ready to work hard at the next level, because he knows he has room for improvement.
"Just growing as a football player, the techniques, because it's going to be a whole new speed to the game," he said, of his coming transition to the NFL. "So obviously I have to work on technique more than anything, and I have to keep getting stronger and more physical, working on tackling and keep growing as a player."
The team that drafts Brown is almost certain to get an impact player on special teams right away. Thus, even if it takes the young corner a year or more to master playing defense in the NFL, as it did at Texas, he should still be a valuable asset from Day One. At Texas, he played on virtually every special teams unit throughout his career.
"I know I can play special teams and I've been doing it since I got to Texas," said Brown. "Whatever it takes to get on the field, I'll do that."
Brown has also been watching film of two former Longhorn cornerbacks after whom he believes he can pattern his game, Nathan Vasher and Quentin Jammer. Like Brown, Vasher and Jammer are considered bigger cornerbacks with the agility and fluidity of smaller players. Brown has also been compared to Green Bay's Tramon Williams, a player of similar size and athleticism who took a few years before breaking out in a big way for the Packers in 2010.
"I enjoy watching Nathan Vasher, an old Texas great," said Brown. "He's from my area. He's just someone great to watch, and I watch him on film. Quentin Jammer, too…just all the Texas dudes. I watched extra film on them and how they made it in the NFL."
Jammer made it to the NFL as a first-round pick, fifth overall with San Diego in 2002. Vasher was a fourth-round pick of the Chicago Bears two years later. Brown may fall somewhere in between, as may both of his teammates. Or perhaps a team will be enamored of Brown's physical talents enough to jump somewhere in the first round. Wherever he lands, Brown will arrive ready to put in the work necessary to excel at the next level, even if it takes some time, just as he did at Texas.