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Nov 2, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini linebacker Jonathan Brown (45) signals to the student section during the fourth quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Illinois 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O

Illinois Fighting Illini Football: The Case for Taking Jonathan Brown in the NFL Draft

The Illinois Fighting Illini football team lost a defensive stalwart when Jonathan Brown exhausted his eligibility following a senior campaign that saw him pull in All-Big Ten Second Team honors while compiling 119 tackles including 15 tackles for loss, but the Illini’s loss will be the NFL’s gain.

The question remains: Which team, if any, is going to pull the trigger and select Brown in the upcoming draft, and what can they expect to get out of him?

While searching for an answer to this question it occurred to me that recent precedent may have already been set in the 2012 NFL Draft when a highly productive former college linebacker went undrafted.

Vontaze Burfict was an all-everything Arizona State Sun Devils linebacker, but due to a pattern of less than disciplined play coupled with perceived sub-par combine numbers the former ASU star was not selected in the 2012 NFL Draft and was relegated to signing with the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent. So, why compare Brown to Burfict? See for yourself.

Vontaze Burfict Combine Measurables

  • 6’1″, 248 pounds
  • 40 yard dash – 5.09 seconds
  • Vertical – 30″
  • Broad Jump – 104″
  • Arm Length – 31 1/4″
  • Hands – 9 3/4″

Jonathan Brown Combine Measurables

  • 6’0″, 238 pounds
  • 40 yard dash – 5.03 seconds
  • Vertical – 31″
  • Broad Jump – 108″
  • Arm Length – 33″
  • Hands – 9 3/8″

Pretty similar, no? I have a sneaking suspicion that Brown’s combine performance is going to serve to push him into 7th round or even undrafted free agent status just as it did to Burfict before him, and I also have a sneaking suspicion that whoever takes a chance on Brown is going to get a player that will be very hungry to prove himself, just like Burfict before him.

Burfict finished last season with 115 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception. It was a performance that was good enough to secure a spot on the NFL All-Pro 2nd Team. Not bad for an undrafted free agent whose league-wide perception heading in to the draft clearly didn’t match the reality he provides as a player on Sundays.

So, where might Brown end up?

If I was forced to make an educated guess I would lean towards Green Bay. The Packers recently hired Ron Zook to run their special teams, and that’s important because it was Zook that brought Brown to Illinois. He is very familiar with the skillset that Brown brings to the table, and the bottom line is that Brown is going to have to make a name for himself playing on the special teams unit while trying to break in to the league. Luckily for him, playing special teams is nothing new as he has handled those duties during his career at Illinois.

All that’s left now is to wait and see how the draft unfolds, but if there’s one thing that I know for certain it’s that Brown can flat out play football and provided he continues to put in the work to get better there is a very good chance he could produce numbers very similar to those posted by Vontaze Burfict a year ago.

It’s not always about the measurables, but it’s always about the drive to prove people wrong and the heart to follow through.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.

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