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Very Deep Sleeper: Daniel Brown (2019 Fantasy Football)

Jul 24, 2019

Chris Herndon’s suspension gives Daniel Brown the chance to steal the Jets’ TE job

R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate, Jets tight end Daniel Brownin Season 4 of his Very Deep Sleeper series for FantasyPros.

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New York Jets second-year tight end Chris Herndon had fantasy GMs in a watchful/hopeful state as he was coming off a solid showing in his 2018 rookie season. In early rankings/ADPs, he was tracking as a top 15-18 fantasy tight end for 2019 (with TE1 upside hopes and dreams for some).

But all that changed in July when Herndon was suspended for four games for a DUI incident where he crashed his car into another vehicle (at a reported 100+ MPH), under the influence, and injured at least one other person. With that event, the door just opened up for a tight end to emerge as the Jets’ starter Weeks 1-4. A very deep fantasy sleeper alert has been “activated.”

I know what you’re thinking – I didn’t care about the Jets’ tight end situation before, and I certainly don’t care about the Jets’ backup tight end ‘winner’ of the training camp battle.

Touche’. Let me see if I can get you excited…

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What if I told you Daniel Brown was an undrafted free agent (in 2015 by Baltimore) who clawed his way from UDFA status to making the main roster as a rookie and eventually getting into the starting rotation mid-season that same rookie season? Now, what if I told you he did that as a wide receiver?

Brown was so good his rookie preseason (four catches, 58 yards, two TDs in the 2015 preseason) that he eventually forced his way into some snaps, and then was so good he actually started a regular-season game as a giant wide receiver — a ‘big target’ with nice movement skills and good hands. Not a bad start for an unknown, undrafted wide receiver out of James Madison.

Afterward, I guess because the Ravens were known to have a tight end fetish during the Ozzie Newsome GM years, and Brown being 6’4″+, they worked to convert him to tight end after his rookie campaign. Why should you be excited about this conversion to tight end? If I run through my database of pre-draft workout data among college tight ends the past five years, and I look for TE prospects who were 6’4″+, ran a 4.65 or faster 40-time (Brown 4.60), and posted a (terrific for a tight end) sub-6.95 three-cone time – I get back four names…

Three recent, high draft-pick tight end prospects…and Daniel Brown. That’s a little misleading data-bait for you. I realize Brown wasn’t a classically trained tight end from college, like the others, and Brown clocked his times at 227 pounds then (as a WR prospect). Still, I call attention to the potential that Brown brings with a higher-end tight end speed/agility combo. This is still true even after adding 20 pounds, as he did in 2016 to make the conversion.

Because of the Ravens’ tight end addiction, Brown was low on a deep depth chart of quality tight ends in 2016. He played a few snaps in Week 5-6 of the 2016 season, but with no targets or no real concern from the Ravens. When a roster crunch hit (and with a gaggle of tight ends already rostered), Brown was sacrificed for roster space with the assumption he’d go right to their practice squad.

He didn’t. The Chicago Bears stepped in and claimed Brown. A few weeks later, Brown got to work for the Bears, accruing three catches for 24 yards and a TD in his Chicago debut. Two weeks later, he was the Bears’ starting tight end (Zach Miller went down), and his debut as a starting tight end – six catches for 42 yards on six targets. I’ve been a fan of Brown ever since scouting him as a wide receiver at James Madison, and I really thought he shined in his preseasons for the Ravens, so when he got his big chance with Chicago, I was watching.

I loved what I saw. Brown added the bulk, but was still moving well…well above average among NFL tight ends. The future looked bright as Brown was a starting tight end the final four games of Chicago’s 2016 season less than a year after converting to the position!

Zach Miller returned as the Bears’ starter in 2017, and Brown was his backup and played sparsely. Eventually, Miller got hurt again (that real bad broken leg event) and Brown stepped back into playing time and a couple of starts at the end of the season, but the Bears were fading fast for the soon-to-be-fired John Fox. Zach Miller was effectively done with football due to the injury in 2018.

The Bears’ starting tight end role was up for grabs it seemed, and then Matt Nagy became head coach, Trey Burton was signed to a big deal, and 2017 draft pick tight end Adam Shaheen had “draft stock.” Brown still made the roster and played in 14 games in 2018, but mostly on special teams. Brown’s rise up the tight end ranks hit a roadblock with the Bears’ new regime.

Brown became a free agent in 2019. The Bears, obviously, didn’t need or want him. The Jets signed him to a one-year deal (the new Jets OC, Dowell Loggains, was the Bears’ OC when Miller was claimed and became a surprise starter in 2016). You’d think being signed by the Jets is the end/death of any prospect story, and I might have agreed until the story took an interesting turn.

Brown was signed by the Jets to a simple, cheap deal that basically brought him in to compete for a backup role. There were no real guarantees he’d make the team, but then things started happening for Brown after the 2019 NFL Draft.

 — The Jets dumped their old GM and hired a new GM (Joe Douglas).
— Brown was one of the noted bright spots of 2019 early OTAs/camp, getting singled out by the new GM.
— Soon after the positive vibes were being spoken and written about Brown, the new GM cut tight ends Jordan Leggett (May 2019) and then Neal Sterling (June 2019). Suddenly, Brown looked primed to be the clear #2 tight end on the depth chart.

Brown had been kicking on the door to earn main roster playing time with his 2019 training camp performance…and then Chris Herndon just opened the door and let Brown walk into a Weeks 1-4 starting role…maybe. Worst case, Brown should win the main receiving tight end job, but I think he’ll win the whole starting job with Eric Tomlinson and/or Trevon Wesco in blocker/supporting roles. If Brown is going to start Weeks 1-4, he’s going to get a lot of time with the first team this preseason.

My Very Deep Sleeper point here would be — what if a very talented Daniel Brown, with a full opportunity to prove himself this summer, just seizes the hearts of the new coaching staff? The new coaches and GM just arrived; they have no emotional ties to Chris Herndon. There are more ties to Brown than Herndon with the new offensive coordinator.

What if Brown not only shines in the preseason, but also shows well in Weeks 1-4? What if he is the Jets’ full season 2019 starting tight end in hiding right now? What if he’s about to claim or make good on a golden ticket opportunity? An athletic former wide receiver turned tight end who has shown ability with the Ravens and the Bears has just had the red carpet rolled out for him to show off for the Jets in 2019.

I know “it’s the Jets” and that may be a downer factoid to the story, but I think Brown might be worth more than his not-even-listed-among 100+ ranked tight ends for the 2019 season. If Chris Herndon evoked TE1.5 hopes for 2019…why not the more talented Daniel Brown (if he truly starts)? It won’t cost you much to find out today.

2019 Very Deep Sleeper series (Season 4), so far:

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