NOTE: This article was written before the news of James Washington injury.
Just making an NFL roster is a greater accomplishment than most people will ever achieve. It requires being a couple or three standard deviations above average physically, but the mental dedication and constant work may be even bigger obstacles. When a player manages to hang onto one of the precious jobs on a 53-man NFL roster, they are getting rewarded for all the hard work and effort. And on rare occasions, one of the many journeymen players who populate the lower reaches of the depth charts gets a chance to shine. This year, that may be exactly what is happening for Noah Brown of the Dallas Cowboys.
While other wide receivers like CeeDee Lamb, T.J. Vasher, and even James Washington (now out with injury) have shown up in the daily highlight videos from the first four days of camp, Brown has also been putting in some real work. Kyle Youmans of DallasCowboys.com put it this way earlier this week:
Three days in, and with no pads on, it’s tough to accurately tell who may have an early advantage in certain battles. However, the wide receiver position is one that seems decently clear even without pads in the equation. With that being said, the first few practices have seen Noah Brown shine in a competition for the second wide receiver spot against names like Jalen Tolbert and James Washington.
Brown made multiple grabs during the team period that raised some eyebrows. His most notable was on a fluttering pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, while facing Trevon Diggs in man-to-man coverage. Not only did he accurately track the ball despite a change of speed, but he reeled it in for a first down while keeping Diggs out of position.
He had another grab on an out route earlier in the day for a gain of nearly 20 yards. A few plays later he found some separation in the endzone for a 15-yard touchdown reception. Just three examples of a bundle of catches he had Friday.
Brown has long been a part of the offensive and special team units, but in a room full of young receivers or newcomers, he has entered camp determined to provide some production.
Brown has been a bit of a footnote in his career with the Cowboys. He is entering his sixth year with the team, but only has 39 receptions for 425 yards over that time. Last season was his best, but he still only had 184 yards. He’s never had a touchdown catch, either. There are certainly people who question why he is even on the team.
There are some factors that contributed. He missed the 2019 season with an injury. Most of his career, he has also just been a bit buried by the receivers who were ahead of him on the depth chart. So far, he has been hanging on as a special teams contributor and insurance policy. But as mentioned above, he has kept his job while so many other players have come and gone. He is now on his second one-year deal after finishing out his rookie contract. The Cowboys have not exactly been profligate in bringing back players when their deals expire. One thing in Brown’s favor, especially in the eyes of Stephen Jones, is that he has only cost them vet minimum money in his two re-signings. Since the coaching staff certainly has some input on these sorts of decisions, they must see something in him as well. And while his production has not been impressive so far, he has shown an upward trend each season on the field.
Last year, he was apparently WR5 behind Amari Cooper, Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Cedrick Wilson. Now, Cooper and Wilson are gone, and Gallup is expected to miss games at the start of the season. Suddenly Brown is in the mix for a starting job, and certainly has an excellent chance of being no worse than WR4 in a role similar to Wilson’s. Youmans has noticed him in the unpadded practices. So have others. Brown has not had as many “wow” moments. What he has done is show a steady strong presence. That is more important than flashing big but not bringing consistency to the table.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Brown has worked with Dak Prescott his entire career. Talent and skill are important, but the quarterback having trust and rapport with his receivers may be more so. There, Brown should have an advantage over his competition.
He probably will be used out wide rather than in the slot, but that still gives him a valuable role. Lamb is expected to see a good bit of slot work, and there are other good options. On almost every play, there should be at least one receiver providing a deep threat when the team lines up to force the defense to cover him. Brown is big and strong enough to always be that threat, including in the red zone.
Brown has already put together a nice career in terms of longevity. This season he may be seeking to emulate Wilson in another way, putting together a résumé that will finally get him a bigger payday. It would likely lead to the end of his days with Dallas because of cap space, but it would be great for him.
His challenge is to maintain his performance through camp and into the regular season. We have yet to see the pads come on. That starts Monday. This is a great opportunity for Brown. It is time for the Cowboys to see what Brown can do for them.