North Carolina was lined up at its own 46-yard line in a matchup against Virginia when Dyami Brown burst out of his stance. A small stutter step was all he needed to make the cornerback stop in his tracks, which allowed him to break free down the left sideline.
Quarterback Sam Howell only needed a few seconds to make his decision. He slung the ball towards Brown, who slowed up a bit to make the catch before finishing the play in the end zone. Similar plays became relatively commonplace for the Tar Heels that night, as Brown went on to have 11 receptions for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
Those moments are exactly what played a role in the Washington Football Team drafting Brown in the third round. For an offense that wants to be more explosive downfield, pairing Brown with gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick was too tempting of a prospect to pass up. But Brown did not start out as the downfield playmaker he became at North Carolina. It required plenty of hard work, and the effort he made years ago helped turn him into one of the most dynamic weapons in the 2021 draft class.
"Believe it or not, with him being a deep threat, that was his biggest weakness during his freshman year [at North Carolina]," said Trey Long, Brown's high school receivers coach at West Mecklenburg High School.
Brown was obviously talented at West Mecklenburg; this was a player who was being courted by schools like Alabama and Florida before committing to North Carolina. What's more, he had 29 total touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons of high school, so he knew how to find the end zone once he had the ball in his hands.
But after catching only 17 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown during his freshman season for the Tar Heels, he wanted to put in the extra work to bump up his production, so he went back to Long, who had coached him since his sophomore year of high school, to figure out how he could became a more potent deep threat.
It turns out that Brown already possessed a lot of the skills needed to get yardage in bigger chunks; he just needed a little extra coaching. It started with creating separation at the line of scrimmage. That involved combining what Long called Brown's "uncommon" top end speed with being more physical. Receivers have to touch defensive backs every play, Long said, so he wanted to help Brown use that contact to get more leverage on his opponents.
"Contact doesn't always mean a bad thing," Long said. "You can invite the contact so that you can create more separation."
That's where Brown's 4.4 speed comes into the equation, and good luck trying to recover as he sprints down the sideline.
"You're not going to catch back up to him if he can beat your hips," Long said.
Then there's the issue of catching contested passes. Brown had always been a natural at that, but working with a coach like Long requires sticking to one's principles. So, Long would set up what are called "tunnel drills." He would make two lines of about four players each, and Brown would have to catch passes through the tunnel while they slapped at his hands.
Most older Washington fans are probably familiar with the Reebok commercial in which former tight end Chris Cooley caught a pass by punching a hole through drywall. With his players, Long tries to take that to another level. Imagine trying to catch the pass through glass, he said, extend your hands, keep your eyes on the ball until you tuck it in your arm and beat the last man.
"When you consistently do it...it just teaches you that catches are going to be contested, especially at the next level," Long said.
Those might seem like small adjustments, but it paid off in dividends. During his freshman year, Brown's longest reception was 21 yards, and his most productive game was against Syracuse with 35 yards. One year later, he had a 66-yard reception against Mercer and 202 yards along with three touchdowns against Virginia en route to a 1,000-yard season.
"That was very, very rewarding," Long said, "just to see him grow and develop into a deep threat."
When it came to catching passes downfield, there were none better than Brown in all of college football. In terms of "go routes," he was either first or tied for first in receptions (15), yards (606) and touchdowns (8). He had 10 catches of at least 50 yards, the most in college football, in his final two seasons with the Tar Heels.
And in terms of contested catches, he's had 21 since 2019, which was tied for second-most during that span. For his career, Brown did not drop a single contested target, which further enticed Rivera.
"He's a guy who seems to come down with enough catches," Rivera said. "[There were] A couple of concentration drops on some deep balls. But man, when he competed for it, he went out and got it. I like the way he runs his routes and gets off the line of scrimmage and is able to stack the defender right away and use his speed to keep his body and keep the ball between himself and the defender."
Brown is currently in Ashburn for Washington's offseason workout program, but he still goes back to Long when he needs some extra work. They still go through the same drill to master hand placement, footwork and getting leverage. Brown also knows he will be expected to run a full route tree, so he has been focusing more on intermediate routes to prove he is more than just a home run hitter, but rather a complete receiver.
Brown is far from a finished product, but the work he's put in so far has made him fun to watch.
"If he can do all of those things and apply those things and stay humble and hungry," Long said, "I don't think anyone can mess with him."