If this project was “One Bad Dude to Defend the Planet,” Brown would be the One Man Gang.
This is the toughest one. Brown played in a far more lawless era of football than most and was its marked man. He dominated the sport to a degree that his records stood for another 20 years as the game underwent radical change.
Some claim that he’d still be as good today as he was 50 years ago. Others believe that the 230-pound Brown, who was often the fastest and one of the biggest players on the field, would not hold the same advantage.
Watching Brown play, I believe if he arrived on the scene later in history that he would have still been the same dominant player throughout the `70s and possibly the early `80s. I’m not as certain about the `90s and the new millennium.
Athletically, he’d still be a first-round prospect. It was said that Brown ran a 4.5-40 in pads. I’d imagine the extra weight of pads and helmet could add anywhere from 0.1-.03 seconds to a combine time. It’s not out of reason to believe that Brown had 4.3 or 4.4-speed if he were measured the same way as modern backs.
Could Brown be a 2,000-yard runner in this era? If you extrapolate Brown’s 1,863-yard output from a 12-game season to the modern era’s 16 games, Brown would need to earn 2,484 yards to match the relative gravitas of the original feat and he’d have to do it when he is no longer one of the biggest, strongest, and fastest men on the field.
I have my doubts.
Although one could stick a pin in the legend of Jim Brown and watch the hyperbole of what he could do today deflate before our eyes, I have no doubt Brown had the athleticism, vision, and toughness to start and produce in the NFL if he arrived on the scene in this era and not a half-century earlier. The potential to become an All-Pro would still be there because a 6-2, 230-pound back with Brown’s speed is still rare today.
If you don’t find that impressive then you’re a fool. The problem for Brown’s legend is that it’s rare, but no longer unique. There is also more conceptually and technically demanded of running backs today that Brown didn’t have to do in the 20th century.
It raises questions about the Brown legend that can’t be answered without proof:
- Brown put the ball on the ground every 46 touches. Would he be able to correct his ball security lapses? I think so, but it’s speculation.
- Brown did not like to block and did not put the effort into the task. He was physically capable of being dominant, but never showed it. Would he do the job?
- Brown was light on his feet and he could flip his hips with speed to change direction, but he was more of a stop-start runner than a back with great lateral agility. He’d still be a very good running back now, but could he be dominant without that type of agility in today’s game?
Then there are questions that Jason Lisk posed in 2011 about Brown and the caliber of Cleveland’s offensive line versus that of Walter Payton. Before, during, and after Brown, Fred Morrison, Preston Carpenter, Bobby Mitchell, Ernie Green, and Leroy Kelly all posted excellent production behind a Browns line that featured Hall of Fame talent. None of this degrades Brown as a talent in my eyes, but when I’m searching for a Team to Defend the Planet, it matters.
If the collective football world said you’re getting Jim Brown and you have 90 days to prepare for this game, I’d be overjoyed and I’d figure out how to build an offense that highlights his strengths and determine if he should be in a position to pass protect or run block. The choice is in my hands and in this case, versatility matters.
Brown’s skill solely as a ball carrier and short-area receiver are good enough for any era. I’m not convinced he was so much better than his all-time peers that I can overlook the specific things he didn’t want to do or didn’t do well and still reserve a spot for him on my team.
If we played by 1920’s era rules and the aliens were physically comparable to that era of football player, Brown would be a game-changing advantage. Because the aliens are on par with us physically, it ain’t gonna happen.
If you asked me before I built my Team to Defend the Planet if there was anyone guaranteed a spot, it would have been Jim Brown. I grew up on Cleveland Browns football. If I chose this team solely on criteria of “greatest ever,” Brown would earn a spot because it’s criteria based on individual skill more than teamwork.
When I thought about my team, my scheme, and the mental makeup of the players, I grew more concerned that Brown’s portfolio of work on the field wasn’t as versatile and team-oriented. There’s no questioning his mental toughness to grow up prior to the Civil Rights era and play during the tumult of some of biggest social changes our country experienced in its history.
If another person charged with a team to defend the planet went with an offense that kept it simple and wanted a dominant alpha figure to rule the locker room, Brown could easily be the running back. I have so much respect for him that he still made my top four while having one of the least versatile on-field portfolios of the football players on this list.
If only this project was “One Bad Dude to Defend the Planet.”
What is the RSP Writers Project (RSPWP)?
The RSP Writers Project is a goodwill community effort among writers that is designed to spur conversation about the game. Here’s the back story for this year’s project, the directory of participating writer-built teams, and the other backs Waldman considered for his team.