Recruiting ROI, No. 7: Orlando Brown

Parker Thune

Every Tuesday and Thursday, SI Sooners unveils a new installment in the Recruiting ROI series. Over the course of 10 weeks, the series examines 20 Sooners over the last 20 years who dramatically exceeded expectations in the crimson and cream.

Much like Ryan Broyles, whom SI Sooners examined in the last installment of this series, Orlando Brown wasn't a nobody on the recruiting trail.

A three-star prospect out of Suwanee, GA, Brown earned offers from a myriad of top schools across the country. Coaches salivated over his imposing size (6-foot-8, 338 pounds) and the productive ceiling he carried. Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Michigan and Notre Dame were among the programs that recruited him.

But Brown lands here at No. 7 on the Recruiting ROI list because no one expected stardom from him. He wasn't anyone's first choice. In that 2014 class, Alabama landed tackles Cam Robinson and Ross Pierschbacher. Clemson got Cannon Smith. Georgia snagged Dyshon Sims and Kendall Baker. Michigan had a commitment from Juwann Bushell-Beatty. Notre Dame grabbed Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars.

Every single one of those players outranked Brown, who was the 36th overall offensive tackle according to 247Sports, and the 46th overall according to Rivals. In truth, he wasn't Oklahoma's primary target at the position either, as the Sooners also landed four-star tackles Kenyon Frison and Alex Dalton in their 2014 class. Brown almost didn't come to Norman at all, as he originally committed to Tennessee before flipping at the eleventh hour.

But once he arrived on the scene, the man that came to be known as 'Zeus' didn't waste much time.

Brown redshirted in a rocky 2014 season for the Sooners, who went 8-5 and took a 40-6 thrashing from Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl to close the year. However, come 2015, Bob Stoops named Brown a starting tackle, making him just the 10th freshman in program history to draw a start at the position. He started all 13 games at left tackle, protecting a walk-on transfer quarterback named Baker Mayfield. At year's end, Brown earned freshman All-American honors from Sporting News, and second-team All-Big 12 honors from ESPN.

Come 2016, Brown again started all 13 games, allowing a single sack across nearly 700 snaps. The accolades came in droves at season's end, as he was named a second-team All-American, first-team All-Big 12, and the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year.

2017 brought more of the same. Brown started all 14 games, and again was named Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year. He became a unanimous All-American and a finalist for the Outland Trophy, helping spur the Sooners to a third straight Big 12 title and a Rose Bowl berth.

After the season, Brown announced that he'd forego his redshirt senior season to turn pro. Many experts and pundits projected him as a first-round NFL draft pick, but a historically poor performance at the NFL combine sunk those chances. Brown ran the 40-yard dash in 5.85 seconds and logged just 14 reps on the bench press, raising concerns about his physical shape and durability.

He eventually slid all the way to the third round of the draft, where a joyous homecoming awaited him. The Baltimore Ravens nabbed Brown with the 83rd overall pick.

Brown had grown up in Baltimore, and his father, Orlando Sr., had spent the final three seasons of a ten-year NFL career with the Ravens. However, Orlando Sr. passed away suddenly in 2011, a victim of diabetic complications. In the aftermath of his death, the family moved to Georgia. 

But seven years after the untimely loss of his father, Orlando Jr.'s football journey had come full circle.

Two years into his NFL career, it's safe to say Brown has disproved all his doubters. Now at right tackle, 'Zeus' has appeared in all 32 games over the 2018 and 2019 seasons (he hasn't missed a contest since his redshirt year at Oklahoma in 2014). He's emerged as a mainstay on the Ravens' offensive line, and earned a Pro Bowl invite at the conclusion of the 2019 season.

As the old adage goes, you can't teach size. And while Orlando Brown has never been the quickest or most athletic tackle, he's almost always the biggest man on the football field. At 6-foot-8 and 344 pounds, he's a daunting gatekeeper for reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson.

Brown has never been anybody's first pick. But he's always been the right man for the job.

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