Well, the recruitniks got one part right: Bryce Brown is headed for the NFL draft after just three years of college football. It was just everything that happened in those three years that they got wrong.
Not that anyone had any particular reason in 2009 not to think Brown was on his way to campus stardom. He already looked like an NFL-ready workhorse at 18 years old, with the speed and versatility of a much smaller back and the prep production to match. Three of the four major recruiting sites ranked him as the No. 1 or No. 2 incoming player in the '09 recruiting (the other ranked him in the top 10), alongside the likes of Matt Barkley and Trent Richardson. At one point in his extended recruitment, Brown's handlers were reportedly considering bypassing the college phase altogether and shipping him to the Canadian league until he was eligible for the NFL.
Where to begin counting the red flags in that sentence? Brown was wishy-washy about his recruitment, drawing it out well past signing day despite graduating high school a semester early; eventually, he stretched his indecision so far that Miami — where his brother, Arthur, had arrived as a five-star recruit in his own right the previous year — essentially stopped recruiting him. He was under the influence of a shady middle man who had no credentials, and quite possibly no clue. When he finally did choose, the choice was a school (Tennessee, under new head coach Lane Kiffin) that had only been on his radar for a few days.
When he arrived in Knoxville, he was immediately put on ice due to an NCAA recruiting probe. (Later, Bryce and Arthur would both be caught in the elaborate web of the Nevin Shapiro scandal at Miami.) He didn't play much as as a freshman, never clicked with Kiffin and never gave Derek Dooley a chance — or vice versa, it seemed — before deciding to hightail it home to Kansas State after just one year.
In fact, that disappointing freshman campaign as a Vol remains more or less the grand sum of Brown's college resumé. After sitting out the 2010 season as a transfer, Brown only touched the ball four times in 2011, all in the season opener against Eastern Kentucky. He didn't set foot on the field at all over the last 10 games. It's an open question whether he even qualified as a full-fledged member of the team from roughly the third game on.
And so, as far as his college career goes, Brown leaves as a cautionary tale, an underachiever on an historic level. Inevitably, he's been cast as lazy, selfish, entitled, undisciplined, uncommitted and just about any other negative stereotype you can come up with. I don't know if any of that is true, in no small part because Brown kept his distance from the media and has rarely offered so much as a quote or a sound byte. If he'd produced on the field, the same demeanor would be described as "humble" or businesslike." Since he didn't, in spite of his great talent, he goes down as the flakiest of flakes.
It didn't have to be that way, even after he washed out of Tennessee — his brother limped home from two disappointing seasons in Miami and wound up looking every bit the former blue chip he is last year en route to a first-team All-Big 12 nod. Presumably, Arthur faced the same family issues that reportedly brought both brothers back to their home state, a situation coach Bill Snyder described last September as "just unfortunate."
For whatever reason, one of the Browns was able to find his niche in Manhattan and begin to make good on his obvious potential, while the other remained maddeningly aloof. Now, the question of whether Bryce Brown still has a chance to rekindle that potential on the next level goes back to the scouts.