The 2021 NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 29 and runs through Saturday, May 1, and the Michigan State Spartans look to extend the school’s draft streak to 81-straight years (the third-longest streak in the NCAA, behind only USC and Michigan). The Spartans have three draft hopefuls this year who are looking to extend the program’s streak and achieve their personal dreams of reaching the NFL: cornerback Shakur Brown, defensive tackle Naquan Jones and linebacker Antjuan Simmons.
We will take a closer look at all three of these players with individual draft profiles, staring with Brown. The defensive back had a breakout campaign in 2020, and chose to declare for the NFL Draft early as a junior. Brown very well may be the first Spartan drafted in 2021, and for good reason.
Name: Shakur Brown
Weight: 185 pounds
Draft Projection: Day Three pick — between the fourth and seventh rounds
Pro Day Measurables:
40-yard dash: 4.61 seconds
Bench press (225 pounds): 17 reps
Vertical jump: 35.5 inches
Broad jump: 9-feet-8-inches
Three-cone drill: 7.08 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.23 seconds
In terms of testing metrics, Brown did not have a great day at Michigan State’s pro day. According to Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score (RAS) formula, which attempts to quantify a player’s total output based on metrics from pro days — or usually the NFL Combine, but the event was not held in its normal capacity this year due to COVID-19 — and grades each player’s measurements on a zero-to-10 scale compared to their peer group. Brown scored just a 2.72 on his overall RAS grade (note that some of the RAS measurables slightly differ from those listed above, which were the numbers from Jim Nagy, executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl).
Brown measured at just under 5-foot-10 at the pro day, which was shorter than a lot of fellow cornerbacks in this year’s NFL Draft. His 20-yard shuttle and vertical jump were more on the average tier, while his 40-yard dash time, three-cone drill time and broad jump were all in the “poor” category. Brown did excel at the bench press, repping 225 pounds an impressive 17 times, which ranked very highly.
While Brown didn’t wow anybody at his pro day, the tape he put out in 2020 speaks for itself. Despite the low RAS score, he is instinctive, plays with good technique and offers position versatility.
Here is what Brown told the media about the pro day experience:
“It’s just a feeling of excitement,” Brown said about his opportunity to perform at Michigan State’s pro day. “It’s a blessing to be here. Everything I’ve been through here (in East Lansing), trials and tribulations, things of that nature, today was a blessing.”
“I went out there (at the pro day) and gave it all I got,” Brown also said. “Put my best foot forward.”
Statistics and Accolades
Games Played: 26 (12 starts)
Total Tackles: 54 (two tackles for loss)
Passes Defended: 16
Forced Fumbles: None
Fumble Recoveries: None
- Second-team All-American honors by Walter Camp Football Foundation in 2020
- Third-team All-American honors by Pro Football Focus in 2020
- First-team All-Big Ten recognition by the Big Ten coaches and Pro Football Focus in 2020
- Second-team All-Big Ten recognition by the Big Ten media members, Associated Press and Phil Steele in 2020
- Led FBS in interceptions per game (five interceptions in seven games, or 0.71 per game) in 2020
- Tied for third-most interceptions in the the country with five in the 2020 season
- Ranks eighth all-time in Michigan State history with 186 interception return yards
- Brown had the seventh-best coverage grade in the country in 2020 at 84.2, according to Pro Football Focus
Perhaps Brown’s most enticing trait is his versatility, meaning his ability to play both outside cornerback or in the slot as a nickelback, and that he can play in a variety of schemes. He was an absolute ballhawk in 2020, ranking third in the country with five interceptions, and ranking first in interceptions per game (0.71). He earned All-American nods from multiple outlets in 2020, and also earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches and second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media. Brown’s poor showing at the pro day, especially his height coming in lower than expected, could cause him to slide a bit in the NFL Draft, but he should be a Day Three pick (rounds four through seven). Brown plays with strength, tenacity and a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and should prove to be immediately valuable for an NFL team, whether that be on defense or on special teams.
Brown is also a willing and able run defender. He is a chippy, competitive and tough player who won’t back down in man-to-man coverage. In 2020, he allowed 26 catches for 306 yards, while only giving up one touchdown and allowing a passer rating of just 52.4 — earning a coverage grade of 84.2 — according to Pro Football Focus. His instincts and ability to make a play on the ball are highly attractive to NFL scouts. What scouts would like to see Brown improve upon are his long speed, and his ability to match-up better with bigger wide receivers — although there isn’t much he can do about his height.
Brown could fit in well with pretty much any NFL team, but may fit better with teams that play heavy man-to-man coverage (he can certainly play in zone schemes, too, but he excels in press man coverage).
What scouts and analysts are saying about Brown:
“Athletic and instinctive, Brown offers inside/outside cornerback skill and experience, but his average size and speed might make the slot a more likely home. He plays the game like an angry hornet with a relentless, edgy play demeanor. Brown plays with ideal eye balance and field awareness that complements his short-area twitch and anticipatory skills to challenge throws. He has the strength, athleticism and football intelligence to play any coverage technique and often traveled with the opponent’s best wideout. He will eventually lose some ground deep and can be overtaken by big receivers. He’s often chippy against opposing receivers and loves to come downhill as a run defender. Brown plays with the competitive spirit and talent to leave an imprint on the game as a starting nickel with CB2 potential.” - NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein
“Brown has shown steady progress the past three years and really jumped off the film at times last season. He possesses a knack for breaking up throws, comes with an upside, and has enough ability to line up in nickel packages at the next level.” - Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network
“You watch the tape, then you watch a cut up of his ball production, he’s got some crazy interceptions, man, like really phenomenal ball skills. I think he’s kind of like a fourth-round type nickel that will come off the board.
“Brown is a good player, he’s going to be a day-one nickel. Scrappy kid, probably a little bit quicker than he is purely fast, but he’s got excellent ball skills. I love what he does against the run – inside, he can work around blocks, play off blocks.” - NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah (via MLive)
“Brown, to me, is in that third tier of corners, and I think he’s got a chance to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick – at least an opportunity depending upon on how he tests.” - ESPN’s Mel Kiper (via MLive)