With an impressive frame and an equally impressive name, the 6’5, 204-pound Equanimeous “E.Q.” St. Brown gave the air of an NFL wide receiver before I even turned on the tape. I first spotted him last season while watching QB DeShone Kizer last year at Notre Dame, and the first thing that popped out was his raw athleticism. It was not just the height, either: St. Brown is lanky and long-armed, which makes for an enormous catch radius.
More Than Just Size
However, while numerous other larger wide receivers (e.g. Kelvin Benjamin, Allen Robinson) seem to move sluggishly and occasionally have trouble separating, St. Brown is the opposite. He doesn’t move fluidly in spite of his size, but rather, seemingly, because of it. As a long strider, St. Brown has the straight-line speed to separate from anyone at the college level. This makes St. Brown a true deep-threat receiver: he runs a vast majority of his routes out of the vertical stem, which explains why he put together his most successful season at Notre Dame (58 receptions for 961 yards and 9 touchdowns) with Kizer, a gunslinging vertical quarterback.
Nuance as a Route Runner
Despite his prowess as a deep-threat, St. Brown is not just a burner. Like another vertical receiver that came out of Notre Dame, Will Fuller of the Houston Texans, St. Brown is also a fairly refined route-runner in that vertical stem. Firstly, St. Brown’s releases off of press coverage are generally sharp. St. Brown’s primary move is a jab step, which he can perform with equal success towards or away from the sideline, although he usually prefers to win outside leverage.
Against Virginia Tech, one especially notable release led to St. Brown’s man getting turned around in confusion. To enhance his releases, St. Brown combines his foot quickness with adept hand movement, frequently using a swipe to counter after a sluggish first step, or parrying a more physical corner’s hand movement to maintain position up the sideline.
Secondly, St. Brown gains separation after the release by incorporating the same jab step at the top of his routes. This worked to perfection against Nevada, when St. Brown used a hard outside plant to draw his man towards the sideline, leaving St. Brown wide open on his post route between the two high safeties.
Football Intelligence & Route Recognition
Finally, St. Brown is not just speedy and quick in his routes; he is also surprisingly instinctive. He has excellent sense of where the first down marker is, a concept that even some veteran NFL wideouts have yet to grasp, and rarely cuts off a route short of them on the money downs. In these same situations, St. Brown also seems to know innately just how far to come in for the ball, such as not to lose the sticks.
St. Brown also has a strong sense of soft spots in zones and between high safeties in cover-2, a prowess that extends beyond vertical routes. On drag routes, St. Brown frequently diverged his path, both out of the way of other players, and also to give Kizer a greater throwing area such as to maximize yards after the catch. This makes for a player that is not just imposing physically, but also knows how to get open.
Making the Tough Catches
The other aspect to appreciate out of St. Brown’s potential as a vertical target is his ability to make contested catches. The only area of concern here is St. Brown’s slender frame: at just 204 pounds, I have to wonder whether feistier NFL cornerbacks will be able to routinely break up 50/50 balls to St. Brown, as was the case on a few high-point catches last season. However, numerous other plays have indicated the exact opposite.
Against Miami, St. Brown left a post route far too skinny and ran it almost directly into a defender, but was able to make a sliding, contorting touchdown catch on an under thrown ball. St. Brown also has tremendous ball skills: he attacks the ball with a purpose, sometimes coming in five yards or more to secure a low throw. This has significant implications for St. Brown, as this instinctiveness in tracking the ball is what has made other skinny receivers, such as Robby Anderson of the New York Jets, successful on contested throws regardless of bulk.
Living Up to His Name
My favorite aspect of St. Brown’s game, however, actually originates from his unique name. Equanimeous comes from the word equanimity, which means mental composure or evenness. However, I am most impressed by St. Brown’s physical equanimity–that is to say, his balance.
Beyond being tall, quick, and explosively fast, St. Brown is also extremely balanced after the catch, which makes him a doozy to bring down. St. Brown can accelerate rapidly, and once he reaches top speed, he is tremendously difficult to bring down with just an arm tackle, and will often continue moving at speed through poor tackle attempts. St. Brown also has an odd ability to absorb tackles, including on one play late in the game against Nevada, when he stayed up after a head-on tackle attempt immediately after making a catch on a curl route. This makes St. Brown a triple threat: not only can he separate and win contested balls, but he can toast a defense after the catch, as well.
NFL Comparison: Cameron Meredith (Chicago Bears)
This well-rounded, “do-it-all” nature of St. Brown’s vertical game, combined with his thin, yet impressive frame is why Cameron Meredith of the Chicago Bears seems like the best comparison. St. Brown even shares some of Meredith’s greatest weaknesses.
For instance, while he is an effective route-runner, he is far from perfect. Although St. Brown has a good feel for soft spots in zones, he can sometimes be almost oblivious to his man. This can cause him to leave a slant or post far too skinny, essentially covering the route himself.
Concerning Dip in Production
Another area of concern, much like with Meredith, is the lack of college production. For Meredith, this problem rose to an extreme level, as he barely even saw coverage before the draft. I saw one scouting report, that being behind ESPN’s paywall, and exactly one highlight video on YouTube, posted by Meredith himself. Being at Notre Dame, St. Brown will not have an exposure issue, but a drop in production from almost 1,000 yards in 12 games in 2016 to under 300 yards through nine games this season is certainly alarming, and is something to be looked into.
Finally, St. Brown can sometimes become too reliant on his physicality. When St. Brown loses a press release, he has a tendency to try to muscle his way into whatever leverage he was aiming to get. This leads to a halted route and, frequently, excessive physicality at the top, which will likely look like offensive pass interference at the pro level.
NFL Draft Projection
Overall, though, the good greatly outweighs the bad. St. Brown has all of the physical traits, coupled with instincts way beyond his years, making him a player I would be fully comfortable drafting in the middle of the second round, or even earlier.