Some receivers have blazing speed, but not all of them take full advantage of that gift.
Marquise "Hollywood" Brown does. Not only does Brown have straight-ahead speed, he has a knack for knowing when to accelerate and a gift for taking the perfect angle to track down long passes.
Brown's latest touchdown catch against the Cincinnati Bengals, his sixth touchdown during a splendid season, was a perfect example. Lamar Jackson lofted a deep pass toward the back of the end zone and it took every bit of Brown's explosiveness to track it down. He made the catch, tippy-toed to keep his feet in bounds, and completed a spectacular play.
Wide Receivers Coach Tee Martin was extremely impressed, but he wasn't surprised. He has seen Brown catch balls that seemed uncatchable since his college days at Oklahoma. When Martin joined the Ravens' staff before the season, he was eager to work with Brown, though Martin took no credit for the remarkable end zone catch against the Bengals.
"Oh, that's God given," Martin said. "I'd like to say as a coach, 'Yes, we coached that.' But he's one of the best trackers of deep balls that I've ever coached. It's a natural thing. You saw it in college. I recruited him out of JUCO; he's always had that ability. I've known him for a long time, and he's always been one of the better deep ball trackers."
Brown has been much more than just a deep ball threat this season. He's been one of the best receivers in the NFL, with 566 receiving yards, the seventh-most in the league, to go along with 37 catches and a career-high 15.3 yards per catch average. Since Week 12 of last season, no receiver in the NFL has more touchdown catches than Brown's 12.
Brown's first two NFL seasons were both good. As a rookie, he had 46 catches for 584 yards and seven touchdowns. As a sophomore, he had 58 receptions for 769 yards and eight scores. This year, Brown is on pace for a monster campaign with 90 catches for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Wherever he lines up, whatever route he runs, Brown is a threat to turn the next play into a big play. He's become more successful making yards after catch, using his speed to cause problems for defenders even on short completions.
That's something Brown did frequently in college – take a short pass and turn it into a big gain. Martin is glad that Brown is turning up field and getting more meat off the bone after making catches this season.
"I just really wanted to push all the guys, not just him, to get all that we can, because you don't know how many opportunities we're going to get to catch the ball," Martin said. "It was something we rehearsed and talked about during training camp [and] during the offseason in the spring, and we've seen an improvement. We're still working to get even better."
That's something Brown has always done – work hard. He wasn't heavily recruited out of high school, he spent a season at College of the Canyons in California and worked at an amusement park to make ends meet before earning a scholarship at Oklahoma.
When the Ravens made him a first-round pick (25th overall) in 2019, the first pick of General Manager Eric DeCosta's tenure, there were questions about whether Brown had the size and durability to be a consistent playmaker in the NFL. Those questions have been answered. Brown has gotten better every season, and he is healthier after entering the league still recovering from Lisfranc foot surgery.
Pass Game Specialist Keith Williams often does extra work with Brown before and after practice and loves the focus Brown has brought every day. When Brown had a difficult day against the Detroit Lions with several drops, he owned it, got back to work and it became just a one-game bump in the road.
"He's paying close attention to detail," Williams said. "His preparation throughout the week helps him perform the way he has been so far on Sundays. He's psychologically, mentally and physically locked in. He understands what needs to be done, so when he comes out here to work every day, he knows every rep is a time to improve, is a time to get better and set himself up for the potential to have a good game.
"Guys develop; everybody doesn't stay the same. You get older, you get better, you get wiser in whatever you're doing. So, he understood that to go to the next level of his game in development, he had to change something. He came into this season with that mindset and Tee and I have just supported him."
With Rashod Bateman joining the lineup two games ago, tight end Mark Andrews having a career year, and Sammy Watkins (hamstring) hopefully returning to action before too long, Jackson has more explosive weapons to work with than at any point in his career. That should only open up more opportunities for Brown to make plays.
He and Jackson have terrific chemistry on the field and the South Florida natives share a close bond off the field as well. Brown and Jackson have the same goal in mind – a strong second half of the season that culminates at the Super Bowl. Brown has taken his game to a new level, and it has helped take Baltimore's passing attack to new heights.
"I'm the proudest of him with how he's approaching the professional side of the game during the week," Martin said. "He's made the best strides of being out early every day, asking for more, [asking] what drill can we do to work on this, and really attacking issues. It's one thing to recognize it, but it's another thing to accept it and then go and work on it. I think he's done a really good job of just coming to work every day, and we're seeing the results of that on gameday."