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Making the Leap, No. 6: John Brown

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The Around The NFL crew will document the players we believe will be "Making the Leap" in 2015. This could be a player emerging from no-name status to a quality starter. Or it could mean an excellent player jumping to superstar status. 

The list continues with No. 6, John Brown.

Why Brown is on the list


Brown can thank injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton for his presence on the list. Like all Cardinals receivers, he vanished from the offense once an overwhelmed, scattershot Ryan Lindley took the reins in December. If Palmer had stayed healthy for 16 games, Brown's leap would have been made. He was that impressive early in the season.

It's rare to come across an offseason hype bunny who meets expectations as a rookie. It's even more rare to find an NFL draft sleeper in the height of the Twitter era. A hidden gem from small-school Pittsburg State, the third-round pick immediately impressed the Cardinals with his high-end speed, uncanny instincts and unexpected understanding of route concepts.

Before the end of his first training camp, Brown was already drawing comparisons to potential Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, Colts star T.Y. Hilton and 2003 rookie sensation Anquan Boldin.

Once the season began, coach Bruce Arians featured Brown on the routes run by Hilton, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace in his old Colts and Steelers offenses, aligning him all over the formation. At 5-foot-11 with 4.34 wheels, his deep speed and uncommon stop-start quickness hardly came as a surprise. What stood out on Game Rewind was Brown's impressive leaping ability, great ball skills, sideline artistry and sure hands.

A player of Brown's size isn't expected to offer a complete skill set, which is why he immediately conjured visions of Harrison.

Arians dialed him up for a Percy Harvin role near the line of scrimmage, utilizing his elusiveness on bubble screens, end-arounds, jet sweeps, in-breaking slants and crossers.

Brown wasn't limited to those jitterbug routes, however. He was fearless over the middle and an acrobat on boundary plays near the sideline and the back of the end zone.

In contrast to more highly regarded draft prospects such as Brandin Cooks and Tavon Austin, "Smokey" consistently takes the top off defenses as an explosive deep threat. He absolutely lays out for deep balls, which helped inspire Palmer and Stanton to fearlessly target a rookie attracting double coverage down the field.

Brown has all of the traits to develop into a No. 1 receiver.

Obstacles


Already a dangerous deep threat and underrated possession receiver, Brown still has one area in need of improvement. Although much of his late-season disappearance can be attributed to Lindley's faceplant, Arians noted that the 179-pound Brown must get stronger to withstand press coverage and the rigors of a long season.

Much like Cooks, he also needs to add a semblance of power to break arm tackles in tight spaces. Outside of this sublime game-winning 13-yard touchdown in the season opener, Brown failed to force missed tackles with the ball in his hands.

To that end, Brown put on 10 pounds of muscle this offseason. If that added bulk helps him beat press coverage, Brown believes he will "give a lot of people trouble in this league."

If he doesn't get more physical, he will be relegated to a supporting role behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

2015 expectations


Arizona's offense has a chance to emerge as one of the league's best in 2015. Arians is a mastermind, the offensive line has graduated from an area of weakness to one of strength, Palmer has surpassed expectations in his return from ACL surgery, and the wide receiver trio of Brown, Fitzgerald and Floyd is versatile and productive.

Stationed at Cardinals minicamp last month, NFL Media's Alex Flanagan noted that Palmer had an obvious rapport with Brown, especially on deep routes.

"I expect huge things from him this year," Palmer told Flanagan. "There is something different about him."

Brown is a more uniquely talented receiver than Floyd. It wouldn't surprise us if the former is thrust into a more prominent role at the expense of the latter, with the Cardinals ultimately allowing Floyd to walk as a free agent.

In the meantime, Brown can realistically target a 1,000-yard season on an NFC title contender.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down the latest news surrounding Jason Pierre-Paul's injury, as well as the Mettenberger and Watt feud. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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