Ravens' Marquise Brown, fastest player in draft, forced to take it slow

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When the Baltimore Ravens selected Marquise "Hollywood" Brown in the first round, team officials envisioned the speedy wide receiver racing down the field and pulling in a long pass from Lamar Jackson.

When Baltimore's offseason practices begin next week, the Ravens will still be in the imagining phase.

Brown is recovering from foot surgery in January and won't get on the field until training camp in late July. That was the plan all along for the No. 25 overall pick, but it doesn't mean the fastest player in this year's draft enjoys taking it slowly.

"It’s tough," Brown said after sitting out rookie minicamp, "but at the same time, I have fun taking those mental reps because I kind of have an advantage getting back and being able to watch."

This is the longest Brown has ever had to sit out from football, and it presents another challenge for someone playing a position that has been one of the more difficult transitions for rookies.

Since 2001, only 10 wide receivers have eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in their first seasons. No rookie has accomplished this the past two seasons, and Amari Cooper (2015) and Michael Thomas (2016) were the most recent to do so.

Brown is in a unique spot because he has the chance to become Jackson's No. 1 target immediately. Only three of Baltimore's 12 wide receivers have caught an NFL pass, and only one has produced more than 500 yards receiving in a season (Willie Snead).

ESPN fantasy writer Mike Clay projected that Brown will total 45 catches for 680 yards and three touchdowns. But for right now, all Brown can play is mind games.

“We utilize every teaching tool that we’re aware of, and we try to tailor it to the individual student as much as we can, to teach him as much as we can," coach John Harbaugh said. "There’s nothing like doing, but the more he can do on his foot, the more he’ll be able to do out there in terms of walkthroughs and then different things. Right now, he’s not available to practice at all, so it’s all in the meeting room at this point."

Brown hurt his left foot during the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 1, when he came down awkwardly after eluding a tackler in the open field. He played in the college playoff semifinal loss to Alabama in late December, but he didn't have any catches and was pulled in the second half.

When Brown declared for the draft, his agent thought it would be a good idea to get the foot checked out. It was revealed that he had a Lisfranc injury, which is a fracture in the middle of the foot.

Brown, who eyed breaking the record for the fastest 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, couldn't run in Indianapolis or on his pro day. He had two screws inserted into his foot, and he was in a walking boot and on crutches for a good portion of the pre-draft process.

Before being the first wide receiver taken in the draft, he had a couple of medical checks in Indianapolis and was brought in by the Ravens for a visit, at which trainers and doctors took another look at his foot. Brown's agent even sent videos of Brown rehabbing to Ravens officials to show his path to recovery.

"We feel really good about his prognosis long-term," general manager Eric DeCosta said. "So conservatively, I think training camp we’ll have him back. But I think he’s at the point now where his rehab is going to be ramped up quite a bit, and he’ll be here with some of the best trainers and strength coaches around. I think it’s going to be great."

Lisfranc injuries have become more common with football players. Five years ago, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith suffered the same injury in November and returned to participate in portions of offseason spring workouts. Although he never looked 100 percent the next season, Smith started every game in 2015.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania indicated that more than 90 percent of players who suffered a Lisfranc injury resumed playing within 15 months and saw no noticeable decrease in performance. But there were cases in which arthritis flared up in the foot.

"We’ve had players that have had this injury, and it’s a predictable injury," DeCosta said.

Brown has made strides in his comeback and has resumed running. He isn't sure when he'll return, but he thinks he'll be back by the start of camp, which can begin as early as July 25 for Baltimore. That's when the Ravens will get their first glimpse of the player they think can score a touchdown every time he touches the ball.

For the next 10 weeks, Brown will ride the stationary bike, watch practice, attend meetings and bury his head in the playbook.

Said David Culley, the Ravens' passing coordinator and wide receivers coach: "I have no doubt that when it comes time for him to be ready to go, he’ll be ready to go."