One game remains on the schedule for the Stanford Cardinal and headed into it, wide receiver Osiris St. Brown sits with eight receptions, 204 yards and one score; not quite the electric numbers the Cardinal faithful were hoping to see.
The addition of St. Brown caused instant excitement leading into 2018, St. Brown the deep threat and burner to compliment the size of JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin, leaving Kaden Smith to beat up safeties down the middle. St. Brown could burn cornerbacks on double moves and simple go routes, forcing safeties into critical decisions on skinny posts. But with his speed, and a dab of creativity, he could also prove valuable on screens, pulling defenses with pre-snap motions and sweeps.
Unfortunately, Cardinal nation did not get to see all this potential from St. Brown, with only eight receptions to show for the 2018 season. The 25.1 yards per reception is an impressive mark, but with the lack of yards and touchdowns, St. Brown has felt very much like a one-note receiver for the entire season.
The crucial difference between a player, like a Jacoby Jones or an Emmanuel Sanders, (both deep threat specialists), is what they can do outside of that one skill. Sanders can take defenders to task down the field, but also snags the ball over the middle of the field. Far more than a one note player, home run hitter athlete, who can give a team versatility.
He runs a myriad of routes over the middle, which exposes him to hits but also makes him a valuable and reliable target to move the chains. He also finds gaps in the defense, both on designed drags and running with the quarterback on rollouts or broken plays.
Sanders is in the same class as receivers like T.Y. Hilton, Josh Gordon, Doug Baldwin, Greg Jennings and so many others; receivers that can run the tree and torch defenders deep.
It is a unique combination; not every receiver can expose a corner deep while also forcing the coverage to prepare for them on every other part of the field. It is the blueprint for the receiver the Cardinal were hoping for when the sophomore took the turf for the first time.
While some will come to the defense of St. Brown, who is admittedly still a college receiver polishing his game, this was what the balk of us expected from the highly heralded receiver- a stud who was stashed on the Cardinal roster for a year before making his debut and send the top shooting off opponents defenses.
Headed into the season, this was supposed to be the last piece in a receiver core that on paper, was set to look as dominant as the 2015 Cincinnati Bengals (A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones Jr. at receiver and Tyler Eifert at tight end).
Instead, Arcega-Whiteside produced a monster season as not only the primary target and the versatile deep-threat but also the top option in the red zone.
Probably even more unfortunate for St. Brown, is the timing of his flop at Stanford, considering with his younger brother’s start at USC, where Amon-Ra collected 60 receptions, 750 yards and three scores.
It should be noted: in no way is this an attack on St. Brown, more a melancholy love letter to the anticipation I had for the offense I assumed was right around the corner, and in a lot of ways came to fruition for everyone but the new receiver.
When studying the offense of the Cardinal this season in a vacuum of production, everything seemed to be in place for St. Brown’s breakout. Stanford has passed 11 times more on average than last season, while quarterback K.J. Costello develop as a passer and taking a step forward with his receiving corps, all in the same season the running game no longer stood as the central piece of the offensive machine.
It would only make sense that St. Brown would take a leap with the explosion of pass-happy outings from Stanford. Instead, the four-star recruit was rarely heard from come game day. Granted, it was not always the fault of the Mater Dei product.
What the hell is this play? St. Brown is one of the fastest players on the Stanford offense, and out of a stacked receiver set, he could have run an out and up route, a post underneath a vertical or a slant. All would have victimized the undersized corners of the Oregon Ducks. And if there was a real dedication to a screen here, dear God, run any other type of screen.
Motion him in on to run a jet sweep or have him catch the ball running towards the quarterback and under pulling guards and tackles. At the very least put a bigger receiver or tight end out in front of him so the first defender there does not make the tackle.
Plays like this or the thought process of merely forcing the deep ball to the fast guy once or twice a game did St. Brown no favors, however, he did not help himself either.
The hope for a player ranked 13th in the country at his position coming out of high school would demand more passes with his play. Instead, the young talent dropped passes, found himself forced against the chalk and failed to make himself an irresistible target for Costello.
In a word, it was disappointing. Maybe the hype was too high to match, or the best is yet to come when Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin move on from their collegiate careers.Maybe the coaching staff simply did not have him in the right spots to succeed and now know how to better utilize him. Maybe he just needed some real reps before breaking out.
But what we know for sure, was a four-star receiver took the gridiron, after a year in the system, and St. Brown was only able to manage 204 yards. The 2019 season might hold a bit more, but it was disconcerting the way St. Brown went away for the vast majority of the year.
This year was a wash for St. Brown; hopefully, he comes back with a vengeance in the next.