From 'miracle baby' to first-rounder: Ravens' Marquise Brown defies odds

NFL draft profile: Marquise Brown (1:04)

Marquise Brown, one of the fastest wide receiver prospects in the 2019 NFL draft, explodes off the line. (1:04)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Marquise Brown's football life has been defined by countless explosive plays and one question asked time and time again.

Can the littlest guy on the field succeed in such a punishing sport?

From Pop Warner to the highest level of college football, Brown zipped past safeties and artfully sidestepped cornerbacks in the open field. The ultimate challenge is the NFL, where few receivers under 6 feet have starred except for the likes of DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith Sr. and Marquise's cousin Antonio Brown.

Marquise Brown believes he'll become the next game-breaker despite being 5 feet 9, 166 pounds, and it goes beyond his passion and work ethic. He has defied the odds since he was born.

His mother, Shannon James, endured high-risk health complications while pregnant. Scary high blood pressure and failing kidneys, which later caused her to go on dialysis, caused James to give birth to Brown two weeks early.

But, to her relief, he was healthy.

"I was so happy knowing all I had been through," James said. "He was a miracle baby."

Brown was also 5 pounds, 6 ounces, starting on a path where he would had to overcome his small stature to achieve his big dreams.

At the age of 2, Brown put on a Dan Marino jersey and refused to take it off. The only way he would change clothes was if he could still don the jersey over them.

Growing up, Brown had only football on the television. He was either watching games and highlights or playing Madden on his PlayStation.

"From early on, we always knew that football was something he wanted to do," said Shanice Brown, Marquise's sister. "Never in our wildest dreams did we know it would go this far."

It was difficult to envision Brown becoming the first wide receiver taken (25th overall) in the 2019 NFL draft when he initially couldn't get on the field. His first pee wee coaches wouldn't play him in fear he would get hurt.

Wherever Marquise Brown would go, the initial impression was about his lack of size. He arrived at his junior college at 140 pounds. By the time he went to Oklahoma, he had bulked up ... to 144 pounds.

But when Brown put his hands on the ball, the conversation quickly changed to his speed, elusiveness and burst, even at an early age. During the Pee Wee Super Bowl, Brown's team trailed 6-0 at halftime before he scored three times in the second half for the victory.

"He’s determined," said Shaddrick Lowery, who was teammates with Brown from pee wee to junior college. "He always steps on the field with that chip on his shoulder because he’s small. After people get off the field playing against him, they’re like, ‘Yeah, that guy is the truth.’”

At Oklahoma, that moment came during one of his first practices. In a one-on-one drill at the goal line, Brown faced a two-year starting cornerback who was so confident that the newcomer was going to run a slant that he took a couple of steps to the inside. Brown used his quickness to run the slant and still got open.

Outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons looked at coach Lincoln Riley, who then looked at defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.

“Man, this dude is fast," Simmons remembers saying.

Answer is toughness

During Brown's pre-draft visit with the Ravens, offensive coordinator Greg Roman posed a question to his soon-to-be playmaker:

All right, there are 50 guys over here, and you have the big, tall guys, you have these guys, and then you have the guy over here who’s not as tall in stature. Why would I want to focus on that guy?

Brown's response: His toughness belies any number.

"His answer speaks for itself on the field and what he’s put on film, but also I think we saw it," Roman said. "It jumped off the tape at us that he plays big. It’s very interesting."

Brown doesn't shy away from contact. On running plays at Oklahoma, Brown would use his speed to get up on defenders and tie them up.

There were several times when Brown was the example in the room for downfield blocking.

"Make no mistake about it, he’s 5-9 but he plays like he’s 6-2," Simmons said. "He’s got that heart and that competitive nature."

Some smaller receivers make a living outside the numbers. They'll become masters of the go and comeback routes.

Brown shows no fear running underneath routes where there's a chance of colliding with a linebacker who has 100 pounds on him.

“It’s because there aren’t that many people that when you go across the middle at my speed that are really going to come up and hit you that hard. So, that’s my mindset," Brown said. "I’m going to come across real fast, and if you take that shot on me, then you’re a man. So, I’m going to test you out."

End the trend?

Brown is going up against NFL history as much as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.

There have been nine wide receivers under 6 feet drafted in the first round over the past decade, and only two (John Ross and DJ Moore) are with their original teams.

Some of the reasons for those departures -- Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks -- have nothing to do with height. But the likes of Percy Harvin, Kendall Wright, Tavon Austin and Phillip Dorsett have struggled to avoid injuries and make a consistent impact.

Brown is all too familiar with the skepticism regarding shorter receivers.

"I think he maybe used that to show people you can’t judge a book by its cover," his mother said. "He has that fuel that drives him to know that those are just mere words people are saying. His talent speaks for itself."

Brown's equalizer is his blazing speed. If he didn't have foot surgery in January, he was going to shoot for the fastest time ever at the NFL combine.

Unlike some smaller receivers, Brown tracks the ball well over his shoulder and fights for contested catches. That resulted in him averaging 19.2 and 17.6 yards per catch his last two seasons for the Sooners.

The other factor is how Brown continually finds his way to the end zone. He produced 17 touchdown catches the last two seasons, four fewer than what the Ravens' wide receivers totaled over the same time.

"I hear [questions about size] all the time," Brown said. "But when I’m on the football field, there’s no more talk. All the talk goes out the window. You just have to go out there and play, and that’s what I’m looking to do."