Our NFL rookie profile series continues with this analysis of 2019 NFL Draft Prospect AJ Brown, WR of Ole Miss. You can also check out all of our NFL Draft Prospect articles here. We will continue to provide you with these in-depth rookie profiles and a ton of other fantasy football rookie analysis right up through the NFL Draft. Stay tuned, and stay ahead of your league!
As someone who likes to take a yes/no position on players for “the people” (that’s you), AJ Brown is a problem. Yes/no views aren’t aimed at being right or wrong but at least they offer anyone reading a solid opinion from a unique perspective so you know where to start your own valuation. But for Brown, I will fail you. I’m sorry.
Brown’s profile for potential sits on the borderline of most measures – from production to athletic testing. We can give him some leeway since he was on a college team with two other wide receivers who are expected to be drafted, included one with first round buzz. However, in a “pick your poison” draft, it’s hard to know exactly what to do with a middle-of-the-road profile.
Still, I want to like Brown more than the others in my rookie drafts. He has done enough to be a very interesting prospect, but we may have to wait for the draft to really get a sense of how to value him. As well as wanting good draft capital for every player, Brown may be more dependent on landing spot because I think we need something to tip the scales.
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Brown had over a 30% Dominator Rating (combined percentage of receiving yards and touchdowns) for his final two years at Ole Miss aged 20 and 21. He broke out with over 20% of his team’s production at the age of 20 which is below where breakout age starts to get scary, but above where we can say they impressed young.
Based on my research on breakout age, wide receivers who broke out at 20 in college hit in the NFL about 26% of the time when drafted in the first round, and 18% of the time in all rounds combined since 2003.
Statistics from sports-reference.com.
While Brown did share the team with two other potential NFL prospects (DK Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge, it’s clear they didn’t take a significant share of the offense away.
In fact, it’s actually a small concern he wasn’t more dominant without anyone else smothering a significant share of production. As we know from other NFL tandems in college, like Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, this can happen.
Graphs from my own Market Share database.
So, the question becomes: do we give Brown credit for being dominant on a team with two other NFL prospects? Or were they not dominant enough (Metcalf was injured for a lot of his time at Ole Miss) to justify his struggle to get over the age curve further? The answer is, I don’t know.
Being over the age curve itself is positive and one we would normally just take as read. His overall production ranks below average when compared to other top prospects in this class because of his later breakout age. But there’s something about holding over 30% of the team’s production, even at 20 and 21, that makes me want to like him more than those raw numbers suggest. I just can’t tell you it’s predictive.
In some ways, Brown is not the best prospect for me to evaluate. Because of his competition for targets, I can firmly say that his production profile is likely better than it looks overall. I also think my usual metrics for analyzing players are therefore unfairly low on him. But I want DLF readers to know that while my (and other people’s) analytics-based evaluation has to be somewhat down on him, overall I think we should take that with a grain of salt.
I am not a tape grinder or a film evaluator, to be clear. I do watch prospects but that is not where my evaluations come from. However, I process a lot of evaluations from people who do specialize in watching film.
Based on that research and a lot of conversations with DLF’s own tape specialists, like Jake Anderson, not to mention a few of my own observations, it’s clear Brown was a good outside player in college. However, there are enough concerns in his film that have led some to speculate he could be limited to a slot role in the NFL.
I think he likely has top-24 upside for fantasy. But, as with his production, there are some things that stick out, to me, that make me want to like him more. Let’s take a closer look at his physical metrics.
At 6′ 1/2″ Brown is a little short for the position based on most people’s idea of what is “ideal” for an outside receiver in the NFL. But he also clearly crosses the speed and size thresholds well enough to fit the bill in a pinch. With threshold stats, that has to be good enough.
He ran a sub 4.5-second 40-yard dash time, plus his sub 7-second three-cone, and had above-average height-adjusted athletic testing and agility. This, together with the way he plays on tape and 19 bench press reps, suggest he is strong on the field in high traffic situations. He is physical in contested catches and his physical makeup suggests someone who could become a lot more than the sum of his parts.
Combined with an ability to track the ball well – which I think I can see with some of his over-the-shoulder catches in college – I think he could make a big impact in the NFL.
The only realistic expectation I can offer is an 18-26% chance of being a top 24 wide receiver in his first three years. Unrealistically? If he is more than the sum of his parts, and gets the right landing spot, I think he has more upside.
Having dug into his numbers as far as I can, I still struggle to swing the pendulum one way or the other. He seems like a clear top-five prospect in this class who will end up drafting more because he’s the only one left, rather than because we target him. That has shades of Michael Thomas in 2016 for me. And, to be fair, Brown was a lot more productive in college than Thomas.
He’s the player you take if N’Keal Harry and whichever size/speed player you prefer is gone. However, because he was productive in college, I am very tempted to rank him over the high upside players like DK Metcalf and Hakeem Butler.
Where would AJ Brown have the best chance to succeed? I’d rather a better landing spot than a better draft pick for Brown. I want a coaching staff that knows what its doing, intends to throw the ball a lot, and preferably has a need for an all-around wide receiver.
Ideally, that would be the Kansas City Chiefs. But I’m not foolish enough to think dreams come true, and their style of play certainly fits a play-making speedster like Tyreek Hill a lot better. Or it did in 2018. Andy Reid can scale an offense to its weapons – which is why I’d like it. But since Hill isn’t even technically in trouble with the NFL yet, it may be a bit early to call dibs on his targets.
My other preferred options would be, in descending order:
- San Francisco 49ers (I’m not sold on Dante Pettis but think the coaching staff might be).
- Philadelphia Eagles (Really think this may be the best balance).
- Seattle Seahawks (I love Tyler Lockett but hate the offensive volume, still there’s a potential for a Doug Baldwin-shaped hole to open up).
- Washington Redskins and New York Giants (Not so much volume, or good quarterback play/coaching, but a need at the position).
Thanks for checking it out, see you next time, and good luck in your drafts.
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