When the Buccaneers drafted North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden in the fourth round of the NFL Draft last month, it was easy to draw comparisons between him and Antonio Brown, one of his new teammates in Tampa Bay.
It was somewhat the size, but more so the speed, skill set and the fact that Darden was a supremely talented pass-catcher from a non-Power 5 program being selected on the third day of the draft—just like Brown was when he was a sixth-round pick of the Steelers out of Central Michigan back in 2010.
Even Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich admits that he sees some similarities between the two receivers, as he said it himself on Thursday when speaking with the media. Of course, Leftwich knows thing or two about the Brown, having played with him in Pittsburgh earlier in his career before coaching him in 2020:
"I just remember @AB84 being a rookie... They are very similar, very similar football players."— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) June 3, 2021
️: OC Byron Leftwich on @JDFlash1x pic.twitter.com/XSQ9b3MpWI
“It’s all over the college tape. It’s all over the college tape. Was a big fan of [Darden’s]. He’s not a big guy, but a smaller guy that can pluck the ball. Very fast. Very similar—mannerisms are very similar to A.B.. I think it’ll be good that he’s in the same room with him. The skill sets are similar. Obviously, that’s a big order to put on anybody, but I just remember A.B. being a rookie, being a player on that [Steelers] team. They are very similar—very similar football players.”
Typically, player comps are to be taken with a grain of salt during the pre-draft process, but to hear one like this repeated straight from a coach that now has firsthand experience with both guys? It’s hard to ignore it, really.
As Leftwich said, such a comparison is a lot to put on a young rookie. Brown burst onto the scene in 2011 with his first 1,000-yard season and has gone on to become one of the best receivers of the last decade in the years since. In 11 NFL seasons, he has 11,746 yards and 79 touchdowns on 886 receptions in 139 games. That has earned him seven Pro Bowl selections, four All-Pro nods and, most recently, a Super Bowl ring.
Of course, it’s not fair to expect the same level of production out of Darden as he steps into Tampa Bay’s talented receivers room. But it is safe to say that he plays a lot like Brown and has the potential to make a huge impact when the time comes for him to step into a sizable role in the Buccaneer offense.