The Eagles don’t hit the practice field for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves at OTAs during the months of April and May.
Six-foot-four. Two hundred fifty-five pounds. Take one glance at Billy Brown strolling through the locker room, and there’s no question he’s built to play in the NFL.
Athleticism isn’t an issue. Brown timed 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine last year, which is an above average speed for a tight end. He also finished third among all wide receivers and tight ends in the bench press with 23 reps.
Big. Fast. Strong. It sure sounds like this Brown has the makings of an elite NFL tight end.
If only it were that simple.
There’s no disputing the Eagles have a need after the departures of Brent Celek (released) and Trey Burton (free agent, signed with the Bears). Zach Ertz remains, but the offense deploys two tight ends about as much as any team in the league.
Brown has an opportunity to work his way into the mix. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is he’s still learning the position.
Signed by the Eagles as an undrafted free agent last year, Brown played wide receiver at Division II Shepherd University. While his size and athleticism impress, running and catching the football are only part of the job description now. Even young men who played tight end their entire college careers often struggle to adapt to the position’s demands in the NFL.
Over the next bunch of weeks, Brown needs to demonstrate a stronger grasp of what is still a relatively new role. And he needs to somehow stand out as competition is being added around him.
The Eagles signed veteran Richard Rodgers two weeks ago. Rodgers recorded 120 receptions for 1,166 yards and 13 touchdowns over four seasons with the Packers, so he’s a proven commodity.
Surely the Eagles will add at least one more tight end in the draft as well, possibly as early as the first round.
Brown has a natural advantage. There aren’t many people who are going to look better at a workout, which is basically what phase one and phase two of OTAs boils down to.
But does Brown know and understand all of the finer points that make a tight end a tight end instead of a wide receiver?
Brown dominated at Shepherd, amassing 188 receptions, 3,072 yards receiving and 32 touchdowns over his final two seasons alone. It’s not difficult to envision him becoming a weapon in the Eagles’ passing attack.
Only there’s a lot more to playing tight end in the NFL than running routes. Brown must show improvement in the other aspects of his game this spring if he’s to have a realistic shot at earning a roster spot come summer.