Yet there he was in the back corner of the field, snap after snap, planting his feet at five, seven, 12 yards, practicing curls and digs and slants, determined to prove to his current coaches what those from his past believe: Dyami Brown is a complete receiver.
“I’ve been working on [those routes] for the longest,” he said. “I understand you have to be more than one-dimensional to be successful, and I’ve been working on that.”
Ideally, Washington wants Brown to become another interchangeable receiver in offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s Air Coryell-based scheme, a complement to Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel. That is a big ask for a 21-year-old who said he comes to the NFL having played a rather siloed role at North Carolina (mostly the “X” receiver position, mostly on the left side, mostly running vertical routes). So while Brown figures to have immediate value as a deep threat — his speed and ability to track the ball downfield should translate to the pros — a pressing question is how soon he can become more versatile.
Coach Ron Rivera seemed encouraged by Brown’s first impression. He complimented Brown’s strength and noted his contested-catch prowess. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown never dropped a contested target at North Carolina (of which he had 49), though the number belies concerns about focus drops, which Rivera also mentioned.
“But, man, when he competed for it, he went out and got it,” Rivera said. “I like the way he runs his routes and gets off the line of scrimmage. [He’s] able to stack the defender right away and use his speed to keep his body [between the ball] and the defender.”
Washington is betting Brown’s traits give him a high floor and his work ethic provides a high ceiling. His speed, strength, quick releases and body positioning are why coaches past and present aren’t worried about what Brown’s NFL.com scouting report called “a limited set of routes.” In the past two seasons, about 38 percent of his targets came on vertical routes, 26 percent on hitches and 11 percent on slants; all other routes accounted for less than 6 percent each, according to Pro Football Focus.
The skepticism frustrates Lonnie Galloway, UNC’s wide receivers coach. He heard the same critiques a few years earlier at West Virginia. Back then, the Mountaineers ran an Air Raid offense, as the Tar Heels do now, and pro scouts seemed to hold the system against wideouts Kevin White and Stedman Bailey.
In almost all of Brown’s highlights, Galloway acknowledged, teams saw post and vertical routes, as if his whole job description was “work a double move and go score a touchdown.” But Galloway emphasized Brown can run short and intermediate routes and showed his route flexibility in games, such as against Virginia last fall, when Brown scored on a hitch in the red zone during a career day (11 catches, 240 yards, three touchdowns). Galloway listed the nine options on a route tree and their variants.
“I don’t know any other routes,” he said. “And it’s one of those things for me where, if he can beat you vertically, let’s throw him the ball vertically. What’s wrong with [scoring touchdowns]?”
Before Brown arrived in Washington for rookie minicamp, he trained with Trae Long, his former position coach at West Mecklenburg High in Charlotte. Long knows speed is Brown’s skeleton key to unlocking the rest of his game. It’ll force the defense to respect him deep and set up the shorter routes he’s now focused on. Many point out Brown isn’t as fast as his younger brother — Khafre, a UNC wideout as well, ran at the National Junior Olympic Championships in 2018 — but Long noted there’s something different about Dyami’s speed.
Long thinks the 4.46-second 40-yard dash Brown ran at his pro day isn’t a good measure. He pointed out Brown is a smooth runner, not someone who only accelerates quickly or only has top-end speed. One of the keys to Brown’s vertical success, he said, was his ability to leverage his speed and body together, letting defensive backs hang on his hip before throttling up at the last minute.
“When you run with him, sometimes he’ll just leave,” Long said.
“He knows how to use his speed,” said Jarvis Davis, the former West Mecklenburg head coach. “He knows how to bait you into thinking he’s already at top speed when he’s not.”
Before the first game of Brown’s senior year, Long said, laughing, he didn’t have cleats. For some reason, they hadn’t come in yet, so Long let Brown wear a pair of his, which were Tennessee burnt orange and size 13, one size larger than Brown’s feet. Even though Brown looked uncomfortable, Long remembered he balled out against rival Vance High. He made a highlight-reel catch on a contested deep ball that foretold his success in Chapel Hill.
Before he left for rookie camp, Long asked Brown if he needed cleats. In the joke was a kernel of truth. Long believes Brown will succeed not because of cleats but because of the feet inside them. They do foot-fire drills on the speed ladder every training session, even when Brown is tired of it, because Long believes it’s important. Brown’s footwork prevents him from being jammed at the line of scrimmage and gives him leverage against defensive backs. And if all goes according to plan, they’ll carry him all over the formation and through many different routes this season.
“Cleats, no cleats — he’s a complete receiver,” Long said. “If they want him in the slot, if they want him on the jet sweep, I’ve seen him do it. He knows how to run some of these routes, [such as] digs, three different ways. . . . Personally, I don’t think [his success] will change on the next level.”