Photos from the New Orleans Saints vs Arizona Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, September 14, 2015. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)
Of the myriad reasons the New Orleans Saints pursued and signed cornerback Brandon Browner as a free agent – championship pedigree, undeniable leadership qualities, unquestionably high football IQ, athletically gifted, fearless competitor – one characteristic jumped off the page, and leaps out at the sight of Browner.
He also lists at 6 feet 4, 221 pounds, almost Gulliver-sized even in an NFL where cornerbacks are getting bigger by the season.
And in an NFC South Division that's filled top to bottom with supersized receivers, landing a cornerback who could stand toe to toe with those receivers and who actually could look them in the eye, who could legitimately challenge them not only at the line of scrimmage but also when the ball was in flight, was critical.
Browner fit the mold. Browner, in fact, probably is the mold for such a cornerback.
That's a good thing, considering the Saints' home opener at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday is against Tampa Bay, a team that possesses two receivers of vast size and skill in Vincent Jackson (6-5, 230) and Mike Evans (6-5, 231).
"It very much played into the decision (to pursue Browner as a free agent)," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "Tampa's got two big receivers. You watch Atlanta, they've got big receivers, (and) Carolina, although (Kelvin) Benjamin was hurt in this preseason. But I would say more than any other division, you're going to see some of the bigger, better receivers size-wise in our league (in the NFC South).
"Brandon did well (against Arizona in the season opener). He's someone that has a great grasp as to what we're doing. He's smart, he's competitive, he's in the right position and I think just that time on task, and the snaps he's getting now coming off the preseason injury, is only going to sharpen him up."
Against Arizona, Browner certainly appeared to be everything the Saints had envisioned he'd be upon his signing. He had two pass breakups and three tackles, and stamped himself as a defensive back that the Cardinals would not often, or successfully, challenge.
Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Jameis Winston expects the task to be no less daunting, though Winston hasn't played against Browner in the NFL.
"Well, I remember Brandon Browner from his Seahawks days," Winston said. "He is real long and if he gets his hands on you it is probably over. He is a great cornerback, long, and just a lot of respect from my way."
That respect for Browner permeates the Saints locker room, too. From Day 1 his new teammates have been impressed with the cornerback who won Super Bowls in consecutive years with the Seahawks and Patriots.
For some, like first-year cornerback Delvin Breaux, he has been a mentor. Browner and Breaux traveled similar paths to reach the NFL, each having had to play in the Canadian Football League before earning a chance and roster spot in the NFL.
"Just being patient at the line of scrimmage, getting hands on (receivers) early causes confusion for the receivers and the quarterback, it messes up their timing," Breaux said of the advice Browner has shared during tutoring sessions. "He's taught me a lot about that, and that's what I try to emulate. It's pretty cool."
For others, he has been a mature locker room addition whose voice carries weight (he was voted a defensive captain) despite not having spent an entire season on the roster.
As much, though, he is a counter for the big, talented receivers that the Saints will face in the NFC South. Like the ones the Saints will see Sunday, in their home opener at the Superdome.