Among this year’s elite prospects, few have had more collegiate success than Ole Miss junior wide receiver A.J. Brown. While playing with D.K. Metcalf, an elite NFL prospect in his own right, Brown was able to stand out as a number one option on his team (though Metcalf did miss his fair share of games). With two wide receivers from the same college being viewed as top-tier fantasy assets in this year’s class, it begs the question: “which one should I take?”.
While it’s still early in the process, let’s take a look at why the answer just might be Brown when it’s all said and done.
As a recruit
Brown has been a well-known prospect ever since his high school days at Starkville High School in Mississippi. Ranked as a four-star recruit on ESPN as well as the 66th overall prospect in his class (seventh at wide receiver), he had multiple offers for his services from many big-name schools. Deciding between Alabama, Florida, Auburn, LSU, among others, the local high schooler decided to play his collegiate football at Ole Miss.
A 6’2”, 218 lbs (yes, this size in high school) force on the football field, Brown had big junior and senior seasons to put him on the national radar. In each of those seasons, Brown exceeded 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. A multi-sport athlete, playing baseball and football, Brown was a top-tier wide receiver target in his high school class.
Watching this highlight tape of Brown below in his senior year, you can tell Brown was just a complete athletic mismatch to his competition. This is the type of athlete and player who college scouts fawn over, and it showed in the amount of high level offers he received.
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Statistics from ESPN.
Brown continued the success from high school early on at Ole Miss, registering over 400 yards as a true freshman in 2016. His production came with remarkable consistency, as he registered between two and four catches in all but two games that season. While not a focal point of the offense yet, Brown showed the capability to be a consistent, big-time producer for a strong passing attack.
In 2017, Brown had his true breakout season for the Rebels, registering 75 catches for over 1,250 yards. Showcasing both consistency and upside, Brown had five games with eight or more receptions, including one 14 catch game. Additionally, the sophomore wideout recorded five games with 150 yards or more, including a 233-yard mega-performance in the final game that season. Brown’s worst game as a sophomore was against Alabama, but the whole team suffered tremendously in a game where Ole Miss lost by a whopping 66-3.
In his final season at, Brown was once again a dominant force in the offense. The junior recorded between six and ten catches in all but two games and was a clear focal point of the Ole Miss passing attack once again. Additionally, Brown cleared 93 yards receiving in eight games this season. While Brown did not have as many sheer dominant games like he did as a sophomore, his consistency more than made up for it.
Peter Howard (@pahowdy on Twitter) does a great job charting historical wide receiver trends and how this year’s prospects line up. Below is his chart depicting age and market share for Brown over his career. While Brown’s freshman season did not qualify as a “breakout”, per se, his sophomore and junior seasons have both been above the trendline of productive NFL wideouts.
There seems to be a lack of clarity as to Brown’s size, as sites vary in what they list him as; from 6’1” to 6’2” and between 220 and 230 pounds. We will surely get clarity through the NFL Combine and the draft process. Whether he’s an extra inch tall or a couple pounds heavier or lighter, it remains true that Brown boasts a solid frame to be an NFL wide receiver. If you’re looking for a size-weight comparison, Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa is likely your best find. Enunwa stands 6’2” and 225 pounds, which is nearly the same as Brown’s reported size at this point.
It’s early on in the process, but I expect Brown to test average to above average at the NFL Combine. As a bigger receiver, Brown wins with strength and size more often than not, and won’t be mistaken for a burner anytime soon. I expect Brown to run in the low 4.5s in the 40-yard dash, and breaking the 4.5 barrier would be a big boost to his draft stock. Brown played wide receiver all over the field, but did tend to be in the slot most often of the wide receiver positions. Given his role, look for Brown to excel in the quickness, explosiveness, and strength drills more so than speed.
- Strong hands at the catch point
- Can play multiple different WR positions despite primarily being known as a slot receiver
- Can beat defenders with multiple different routes
- Breaks initial tacklers at the catch point often thanks to his size and strength
- Has nuance to his routes – not just beating defenders with size
- True breakout as a 19-year-old sophomore
- Lack of long speed visibly shows on tape
- Likely won’t test among the top of the class at the NFL Combine
- Struggled with consistency/drops more than you’d like to see from a top-tier WR
- Yards after catch primarily from beating first tackler, not from agility or speed
- Struggles a bit with press coverage, but did not get much exposure to it before 2018
NFL Draft Projection: Early Round Two
A.J. Brown is, to me, a more impressive Michael Gallup from last season in that he’s a very well-rounded wide receiver who doesn’t have that one part of his game where you say “wow”. In early mock NFL drafts, I have seen Brown selected as high as the middle of round one to a team like the Baltimore Ravens and as low as round three. However, many seem to see a fit with the Oakland Raiders at the back-end of round one or early round two.
With the NFL beginning to focus more and more on targeting slot receivers – the JuJu Smith-Schusters and Keenan Allens of the world – Brown brings a valuable skillset many NFL franchises will covet. Should Brown test well at the NFL Combine, he could begin to be thought of as a lock for round one NFL consideration.
In regards to NFL valuation, the last five years have shown that round two NFL wide receivers should not be thought significantly lesser of than round one receivers. Players like the aforementioned Smith-Schuster, Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Tyler Boyd, Sterling Shepard, and so many others have found significant NFL success after being drafted in round two.
Overall, Brown has the ability to make a significant impact on any team that drafts him. Whether thrust immediately into a number one receiver role or as an impact number two wide receiver next to a veteran, Brown will be a quarterback’s best friend as a big target who can separate easily in the right scheme.
As previously mentioned, Brown does not have significant experience beating press coverage and really only worked from the slot his first two seasons. However, Brown has shown the potential and production NFL teams will want to take a chance on come April. I would be very surprised if Brown fell outside the top two rounds of the NFL draft.
Dynasty Value: Early-Mid First
Brown is considered by many to be one of the 2019 rookie class’s best prospects. For all the aforementioned reasons, Brown has a ceiling and floor dynasty owners would love to have on their teams. At this point in the off-season, Brown is consistently valued between the 1.02-1.06 range, with owner preference being the only real difference in value fluctuation.
According to both a rookie poll series done by DLF’s Travis May (@FF_TravisM) as well as I poll that I ran (@FFzinger), Brown’s 1.04 valuation seems correct amongst the community. I don’t expect much to change between now and the Combine in regards to his dynasty value. However, if Brown outperforms expectations, he could see himself rise into the 1.01-1.02 range for some rookie drafters.
Where does AJ Brown rank in early January rookie boards? (1QB)
— Michael Zingone (@FFzinger) January 5, 2019
David Montgomery easily took down the 1.03 vote in the early #2019RookiePollMock!
— Travis May (@FF_TravisM) January 15, 2019
Overall, I expect A.J. Brown to be a staple at the high to mid-end of rookie drafts this coming off-season. With a combination of projected draft capital, elite college production, size, and the displayed ability to play in multiple different roles, dynasty owners and NFL teams alike will be looking to get him on their teams. He’s an exciting player to watch for over the next four months.
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