Everyone knew Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown wasn’t 100 percent as a rookie.
Veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith could empathize after suffering a Lisfranc injury years earlier and still feeling the occasional effects. Encouragement from teammates helped Brown push through the discomfort to catch 46 passes for 584 yards in 14 games after missing a large portion of the spring and summer to rehab his left foot.
Starting with a two-touchdown, 147-yard performance in his NFL debut in Miami, the 23-year-old managed to tie a franchise rookie record with seven touchdown receptions in Baltimore’s historic 14-2 season. Still, the inability to make certain cuts or play as aggressively as he wanted on the surgically-repaired foot frustrated the 2019 first-round pick from Oklahoma.
“I’m not the guy to complain. If I’m out there, I’m going to do all I can do to help my team,” said Brown, who had a surgical screw removed shortly after the conclusion of his rookie season. “It wasn’t the best circumstances, but I was just blessed to be in the NFL. I was just thankful that God allowed me to be where I was at. It’s no complaints. I had a good year, to me, dealing with what I had to do.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the usual offseason workout program in Owings Mills and making conventional training more of a challenge, a healthy Brown went to work and says he now feels “100 times better” than last year. Knowing he needed to get bigger and stronger from his sub-160-pound frame as a rookie, Brown says he’s now up to 180 pounds, roughly 10 pounds more than his playing weight in college when his foot was last 100 percent.
The 5-foot-9 wideout claims the extra weight hasn’t cost him anything in the speed department. In fact, Brown says GPS tracking confirms he’s now running faster than he did at any point during his rookie season, but he’s not quite at the top speed he ran while with the Sooners.
“It wasn’t something that I just put weight on, and then I just tried to get out there and just start running,” said Brown about the goal of getting bigger and stronger. “It wasn’t like that. It took time for the weight to actually even stick on me. I would gain the weight, lose it, gain it, lose it. It started sticking around June. I’m just trying to keep pushing forward.”
The transformation hasn’t gone unnoticed by teammates as veteran slot receiver Willie Snead says Brown looks like “a totally different kid” from a year ago. The new physique shown off on social media is quite a contrast from the rookie a casual observer might have mistook for a teenage son of a coach hanging out in the Baltimore locker room.
“I know the first thing he said coming into the building is, ‘I’m trying to block somebody. I’m trying to set the tone in the run game, man,'” Snead said. “I could just tell by his build that he took that part seriously. He wants to look the part.”
How well Brown will block in his second season remains to be seen, but he flashed his high-end potential as a receiver on the biggest stage of his rookie season, the same night many of his Ravens teammates didn’t rise to the occasion. In the shocking 28-12 playoff loss to Tennessee in the divisional round, Brown caught a game-high seven passes for 126 yards, which included a sensational one-handed catch for 38 yards to set up a field goal at the end of the first half.
With Brown working out with reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson throughout the offseason, the organization has designs of its record-setting quarterback continuing to improve with the first homegrown No. 1 wide receiver in Ravens history. It’s a scary thought for the rest of a league that already struggled mightily to keep up with the Baltimore offense a year ago.
Growing up not far from each other in South Florida, Jackson refers to Brown as his “brother” after the two quickly developed a close bond. They’re expecting big things from each other with all eyes on the Ravens trying to reach the Super Bowl after the disappointment of last January.
A bigger and faster Brown with a year of experience under his belt could prove to be the difference.
“In South Florida, when you’re good, you’re going to know about someone. That’s what it was,” said Jackson about the roots of their friendship. “When he was at Oklahoma, I was at Louisville [and] ended up leaving early. I’m watching him a lot. I’m like, ‘Man, we need to get someone like him on our team.’
“His speed is crazy. He’s got that Florida speed in him.”