By the afternoon of Early Signing Day, Texas Longhorns fans were in a panic about the status of the running back position following high-profile misses on No. 7-ranked Noah Cain and No. 1-ranked Trey Sanders.
Lost in all the commotion was the no-nonsense conclusion of Derrian Brown’s recruitment. The Buford (Ga.) product had committed to Texas in the midst of an official visit in mid-September for the USC game. Like the rest of Brown’s process, it was without drama — the nation’s No. 12 running back, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, had already decided that he wanted to commit to the Longhorns before even setting foot on the Forty Acres.
And just how grateful was the Brown family to join the burnt orange nation?
On Early Signing Day, Texas head coach Tom Herman recounted the story of how a few days after Brown committed, gift baskets arrived at the football complex for Herman, cornerbacks coach Jason Washington, and running backs coach Stan Drayton. It was the first time in 21 years of coaching that Herman had ever received a such tokens of appreciation after taking a commitment.
All that despite the fact that Brown had plenty options — Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, and Wisconsin were all among the 30 programs to extend offers to the 5’11, 188-pounder.
Brown eventually decided on Texas before visiting because of the relationships he built with the coaching staff, specifically Drayton, whose track record was extremely appealing to the Georgia product.
“My dad always told me about the great running backs growing up,” Brown told GwinnettPrepSports.com. “We would play Madden and my dad was always the Bears because of Matt Forte. I thought, ‘He must be something special.’ When I met Coach Drayton, he told me that he coached Matt Forte and Zeke Elliott and those guys.”
After missing on Cain and Sanders, though, it’s Drayton and the Texas coaching staff who ought to send a gift basket to the Brown family for salvaging recruiting at the position in the 2019 class.
When Brown arrives on campus next May, he’ll have a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation thanks to the departure of graduate transfer Tre Watson. If Brown has to be patient, though, it should come naturally to him, as he had to wait his turn at a talent-rich position at Buford.
As a sophomore and junior, Brown played behind eventual Florida State signee Anthony Grant and Michigan signee Christian Turner, both members of the 2018 recruiting class.
“He’s not the first back (at Buford) to have to be patient,” Buford running backs coach Fyrone Davis told GPS. “But he’s the first back to have to be patient with that type of talent. That’s different, he never wavered. His junior year and sophomore year I said, ‘I’ve got to play this guy. He’s too good.’”
Brown made the most of those opportunities, racking up 642 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore and 844 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on nearly nine yards per carry as a junior.
When Brown finally got his chance as a feature back this season, he wasn’t just good — he was great, leading the nation in rushing with 1,908 yards on 246 carries. He scored 30 total touchdowns, including one score through the air and another on a punt return. For Davis, the question of whether Brown is the best running back he’s ever coached comes back to those numbers. They just don’t lie.
Of course, even if the numbers don’t lie, they also don’t tell the tale of Brown’s talent.
At around 190 pounds, Brown still needs to add some strength to his frame, but he’s already a strong athlete, having posted a verified 35-inch vertical leap and a 4.28 shuttle this year. With a 4.62 40-yard dash, Brown doesn’t have elite speed, but the athleticism indicated by his vertical leap suggests that he could be faster than he tested.
According to Ford, what makes Brown unique is his ability to get narrow through the line of scrimmage to avoid giving defenders much of a tackling surface.
“He takes his body and turns it clean sideways to run through a hole with his shoulders going sideways,” Davis said. “I’ve never seen that before. That’s what makes him special.”
In that regard, Brown is a little bit like Texas freshman running back Keoantay Ingram, who in turn echoes Longhorn legend Jamaal Charles.
Besides the body turn, evidence of his loose hips, Brown makes up for his lack of pure bulk by showing excellent body lean through the line of scrimmage and the aforementioned toughness to maximize his physical strength.
He doesn’t do much in terms of jump cutting to make defenders miss, but he shows the type of one-cut decisiveness that will help him excel in zone schemes at the college level. Like Brown’s recruitment, his running style is no-nonsense.
The chance to serve as the feature back and receive so many carries as a senior made a difference, too.
The punt return touchdown he scored featured a spin out of a tackle, a sharp cut to find the seam, a broken tackle, a stiff arm out of another tackle, and enough speed to finish with the touchdown.
Arguably the best run of the season by Brown came on a 77-yard touchdown showed the Buford star cut into traffic at the line of scrimmage and then emerge through a narrow lane before breaking three more tackles. When Brown found the sideline, he had only one man to beat. The man got beat.
On that play, Brown showed off his ability to get narrow, his ability to run behind his pads and break tackles, and his speed.
The following play on Brown’s senior highlights illustrated his pass-catching ability, which is well developed since Buford often used him as a specialist out of the backfield before he ascended to the starting role. On a wheel route, the ball was thrown behind Brown and towards the sideline, but his body control and fluidity allowed him to twist around 180 degrees. At that point, Brown still had to snag the ball away from his body, doing so while barely breaking stride towards the end zone.
Those three plays illustrate the significant upside for Brown, who will come to college as a well-rounded running back with limited wear and tear on his body and the ability to grow as a runner under Drayton.
So don’t underestimate Brown — just because it was disappointing to miss on Cain and Sanders doesn’t mean that the Georgia product isn’t a unique talent in his own regard. In fact, he projects as a more likely big-play threat than Cain and better pass catcher when he arrives on the Forty Acres.
In a class that ended up desperately needing Brown, it’s all enough to deserve a gift basket of his own.