A.J. Brown Fantasy
Whether die-hard fans watch football on Saturdays or Sundays, we all want to be entertained and see great plays executed. There are many players out there who are entertaining, but there are few who can do it consistently. A.J. Brown is one of those players who simply comes to play every week. He is a junior who became one of the best Ole Miss wide receivers by setting several single-season and career records. He set the bar for single-season catches (85), yards (1,320), and TDs (11). He also set career records for receiving yards (2,934) and 100-yard games (10). When a player has broken school records and set new benchmarks for his position without playing a full four years, it cannot be overlooked. Die-hard NFL fans, as well as dynasty football owners, should be pumped to watch Brown on Sundays. He brings a solid set of skills that should allow him to produce reliably on the intermediate downs on a regular basis.
- Height: 6′ 0″
- Weight: 226 lbs
- Age: 21 (He will be 22 at the start of the NFL season)
- Hands: 9 3/4″
- Arms: 32 7/8″
- 40 Yard Dash: 4.49 (unofficial)
- Bench Press: 19 times
- Vertical: 36.5″
- Broad Jump: 120″
Brown was a two-sport athlete in high school and earned top grades in both football and baseball. 247Sports’s Composite Rating had him listed as the #5 wide receiver in the nation and #38 overall in the 2016 recruiting class. At the same time, Baseball Factory had him ranked as the 50th high school baseball player coming out of high school after he had an impressive .360 batting average in his senior year. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 19th round and played in their Minor League system. Lucky for NFL fans, he chose to commit to football and head to the NFL.
NFL Combine Recap
With Brown’s college performance in the last two years, he did not need to test through the roof at the NFL Combine, he just had to perform as expected. As a 226 pound WR, running the 40 under 4.5 seconds is a good time. It won’t cause the online buzz that his teammate D.K. Metcalf got for running a 4.33, but it shows he has speed. Brown’s game is built on precise route running and controlling his speed into and out of his breaks anyway so not getting a sub 4.4 shouldn’t lower him on any war room draft boards. A vertical jump of three feet is respectable, but again, the reason he succeeded in college was that he showcased his ability to pluck the ball out of the air away from his body, not high point the ball over smaller DBs.
Regarding the bench press as a test for wide receivers, after so many reps, it is all just for show. Strength is important in breaking a DBs hands off in press coverage or with sustaining good positioning while maintaining a block downfield. Brown put up 19 reps. As a comparable, Odell Beckham Jr only put up seven reps and that didn’t stop teams from grading him so highly as a prospect. Beckham only jumped 2″ higher (38.5″) than Brown did and the internet is full of his spectacular leaping catches. It is more about maximizing opportunity and having great hands, which is Brown’s strength.
The bottom line is that Brown tested well in everything he performed in at the combine. One of the reasons he came out as a junior is because he felt he had nothing left to prove. His tape doesn’t lie. What we saw him do at the combine backed up what we saw from him in the SEC for the last several years. He looks the part and he can play the part. One thing not shown in the test results is the one-handed catch on a throw from Dwayne Haskins. He slipped on the route but showed determination and effort powering through to snatch it one handed and finish running down the field.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Brown runs great routes and pays great attention to detail. When you watch him go through his route, he wastes very little motion and is very efficient. His steps put him into a position to make the catch and put himself in a position to build up yards after the catch. He looks for the ball as soon as he breaks on a route, which is one of the things I always look for in a wide receiver. It shows again his attention to detail, which helps turn short-yardage gains into first downs. Brown has said in several interviews that one of the things he prides himself in is not letting one man tackle him. He pushes through tackles until the second or third man gets there to stop him. That would probably be enough to move him up the rankings, but his elusiveness is another skillset he uses to slip past defenders and gain a couple of extra yards. He has the awareness to avoid oncoming defenders and the vision to string together moves in the open field. That awareness along with his vision and determination makes him dangerous with the ball in his hands, especially at top speed.
Getting the ball into Brown’s hands is necessary so that the offense can reap the rewards of what he can do after the catch. One of the top traits I look for when watching wide receivers is their hands and how they catch the ball. Brown is a receiver who extends his arms and catches the ball away from his body. You don’t see him short arm any catches when working the middle of the field. He doesn’t just catch the ball away from his body though, he snatches the ball out of the air before it gets to his body. That is a skill that makes him a more efficient wide receiver. It translates into Brown being able to get his head turned around to locate opposing defenders.
Every prospect needs to work on something and Brown has areas of his game he definitely needs to improve on. He doesn’t show speed when running longer routes that take him downfield. Granted, he wasn’t asked to run a lot of those routes with D.K Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge playing around. He might not beat the coverage deep with speed, but he does beat it with technique and proper body positioning.
A skill that coaches love wide receivers and running backs to have is blocking. Like most players coming out of college every year, Brown is another prospect who needs to solidify his blocking downfield. He can block effectively when his positioning is correct, but too often defenders shed his blocks and get in to make a play on the ballcarrier. He needs to sustain his blocks longer to become a more effective blocker. Inability to block well can be an issue for rookies and ultimately, fantasy production. I expect him to improve on this with time, but it will be something he definitely needs to improve on to see significant playing time in the NFL.
Best Fit: NFL Scheme
Any team that needs a wide receiver to work the middle of the field to pick up yards and first downs would be wise to scout Brown. He can work downfield with the right matchups and win with his size. Teams who value route running and solid fundamentals over speed will be looking at him. He could be a solid compliment to a team who already has a WR1, but needs a solid second receiving option to draw away double team coverage. Watching his tape and seeing his measurables, he reminds me of Alshon Jeffery before all of his injury problems.
Maybe a team trades up into the late first to get him at the end of Day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft to avoid competition on Day 2. I could see him going in the second round to a team like San Francisco where they need another weapon for their offense or Oakland looking to fill the void after trading away Amari Cooper. Another possibility is a team like the New York Jets or Buffalo Bills, drafting a new weapon that can build a solid relationship with their young developing gunslinger. If a team is looking to add the last piece to the puzzle to win now, Brown has the skills to help right away, but realistically he will probably take a year or two to become comfortable in the NFL.
A team in need of a chain-moving wide receiver who can take advantage of mismatches may have to look long and hard at the skill set Brown could bring to the NFL. If the team that drafts him doesn’t ask him to do too much too soon, I think Brown can be a solid NFL wide receiver for the next five-seven years. As a rookie, his production will be up and down as he adjusts to the NFL game, but near the end of his second year, I think he can be a player who fantasy owners can start and leave in their lineups for several weeks depending on matchups. All of this is largely dependant on where he lands. Wide receivers with good hands that can run most of the route tree are the type of sound investment I look for in dynasty football. His ceiling is a WR2, but I feel his floor is a low-end WR3, which means he is a solid investment and someone you should feel confident drafting in the first round of your rookie drafts. His skills are what makes him an attractive dynasty prospect. His value isn’t tied to how well he tested at the combine, it is based on his body of work in college and what you see on tape. Those attributes translate into fantasy football longevity which is what smart dynasty owners are looking for.
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