Baron Browning came to Ohio State from Kennedale High School in Fort Worth, Texas. He was rated as a 5-star prospect and the No. 1 outside linebacker overall in the class of 2017. He enrolled early in January and has begun his Buckeye football career as a middle linebacker.
As a senior in high school, Browning was named Associated Press 4A Defensive Player of the Year. He was also an Army All-American. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he was also called upon to play cornerback at times for his Kennedale defense, and he responded quite well.
Baron Browning plays CB last night and and gets a pick six. He should fit in well at Ohio State. Via @dwatkinsNBC5 pic.twitter.com/miyfigHkH4
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) December 3, 2016
Browning finished with 81 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 10 pass breakups last season, earning All-State accolades for a second-straight year. As a junior, he totaled 74 tackles and eight tackles for loss. He finished his career with eight forced fumbles.
He was able to take part in spring practices this year until a shoulder injury forced him out. It wasn’t a major injury and he will be fine for fall camp. Prior to his injury, he was playing well and earning positive reviews for his pace of play.
What To Like
As mentioned above, Baron Browning was 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds as a high school senior. He ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at a Nike combine as a high school junior. He is only going to get stronger and more athletic, but the foundation is there for him to become whatever his coaches need him to be.
Browning obviously runs sideline-to-sideline about as well as you’ll find, and he does so with intentions of finishing. Sometimes those finishes can happen out of bounds, but he’ll get that straightened out eventually.
He’s not just a sideline-to-sideline guy, however, which is good news for the Buckeyes. He can take on a blocker at the point of attack, shed it, and then make the play.
He can also fill a hole before the ball carrier gets through.
As mentioned, he played a little cornerback for Kennedale, and his abilities as a pass defender at linebacker are evident in his highlights. Here are two plays with him defending the slot receiver and reading the play properly.
Here he chips a tight end at the line of scrimmage before realizing, “Oh, I should probably go and defend that guy.” He turns around and catches up to him pretty quickly and makes the play. This would be a much more costly mistake in college, but it gives you an idea of what he can do when he’s in a hurry.
He also sets a nice edge and keeps leverage, which limits big plays on the ground.
It is rare to find a player as big and fast as Baron Browning, so the potential is immense. Linebackers coach Billy Davis started him out at middle linebacker this spring figuring that if he can get the middle down, then the other two spots would be easy.
He is already as big as past Buckeye greats like Matt Wilhelm and Na’il Diggs, and now he is only going to begin the process of maximizing his attributes. Being asked to learn the middle right out of the gate is a testament to where he is as a player, as well as his ability to understand the defense as a whole.
Browning is as highly-touted as any linebacker in Urban Meyer’s tenure, and the potential is commensurate. He’s basically the prototype.
Proof that football highlights are better with TV theme songs.
Exhibit A: Baron Browning pic.twitter.com/VSziAxd79j
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) February 26, 2017
Browning was mixing in with the twos at middle linebacker this spring, and Urban Meyer has already said he is going to play this year. With how well Justin Hilliard played as Chris Worley’s backup, however, it won’t be easy for Browning to see much time on defense in 2017. He will clearly be involved in special teams in some form, however, and violently so.
Since the plan is to not redshirt him, when there is an opportunity to get him some snaps on defense, they’ll have to find a way to make that happen. Chris Worley will be leaving after this season, so they’ll want to replace him with as much experience as possible. Hilliard and Browning will both need to play, but they may be doing so at the expense of the other.
It is unlikely to happen this year, but the expectations are extremely high for Baron Browning. He is already a mature player, so if something great doesn’t happen with him in the next three years, there will be some very surprised and disappointed coaches.
The Bottom Line
Jerome Baker said in the spring that the linebackers were the most athletic position group on this Buckeye football team. On a team with linebackers who run 4.5s, or began their careers as safeties, or both, Browning might be the most athletic of them all. Being the biggest and the fastest is a recipe for success that is completely timeless. Athletically, Baron Browning is the kid in the sixth grade who had a goatee.
Now he just needs to put that advancement to good use and not get stunted. The good news for the Buckeyes is that he had zero issues with motivation and motor this spring. He did everything he was asked at full speed, and then they fixed the mistakes after. The coaches worked very hard to sign Browning, and he should begin to demonstrate why pretty early on. Even if it’s really only on special teams for the first year.