A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss
(percentile rank among all WRs at the Combine since 1999, courtesy of mockdraftable.com):
40-yard dash: 4.49 seconds (57th)
Vertical: 36.5” (64th)
Broad: 120” (49th)
20-yard shuttle: n/a
Three Ole Miss WRs will be drafted this spring. Brown was the most productive of the trio.
After arriving as a 4-star recruit, Brown finished 5th on the team in catches, 5th in receiving yards and 4th in TDs as a true freshman. He flashed big-play ability, with 7 of his 29 receptions going for 20+ yards.
Then came a breakout sophomore season. Brown paced the Rebels in all major receiving categories, accounting for 26.7% of the team’s catches, 31.8% of the yards and 39.3% of the TDs. His 1,252 yards were good for 10th in the country. His 11 TDs ranked 11th. Brown was named First-Team All-SEC and a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top WR.
Although his TDs were nearly sliced in half, Brown again led Ole Miss in receptions, receiving yards and receiving scores this past season. His market shares — 30.1% of the catches, 31.8% of the yards, 28.6% of the TDs — rank 9th, 19th and 27th among the 48 WRs invited to this year’s Combine.
Brown posted 93+ yards in 8 of 12 games, including 100+ in 4 of his final 5. He was again named First-Team All-SEC and a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist.
It’s worth noting that teammate and fellow 2019 WR prospect D.K. Metcalf missed 5 games last year. But in their 7 games together, Brown nearly doubled Metcalf in catches (50 to 26) and beat him in yardage (650 to 569). Metcalf edged Brown 5 to 4 in TDs and also averaged more yards per target (13.9 to 11.2).
Here’s how Brown, Metcalf and teammate DaMarkus Lodge fared in career catches, yards and TDs per game:
Courtesy of @WhatsOnDraftNFL
Games watched - Auburn (2017), Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Brown spent most of his college career as Ole Miss’ slot receiver. He’s a crisp route runner from the inside who creates separation with sharp change-of-direction skills.
This turns into a broken-play reception, but check out the initial separation Brown creates on the double move by maintaining speed through his cuts.
Brown moved to the outside in the 2nd half of 2018, lining up there almost exclusively in the games I watched against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. He posted 6-127 and 9-212-1 lines in those outings, showing the ability to win both before and after the catch.
Brown does his best work on short and intermediate routes. He’s not a huge threat downfield. He doesn’t have the speed to consistently run by defenders and is no better than average in contested situations.
Brown displays some nice body control and hands in tight coverage here:
But he too often loses 50/50 balls because he doesn’t possess the vertical or timing to high-point the ball.
On the plus side, Brown is dangerous after the catch. He’s a tackle-breaker, often falls forward on contact and is slippery enough in the open field to make defenders miss.
Brown’s raw production and market shares are impressive even before you factor in that he was playing alongside 2 future NFL WRs. He out-produced D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge in both 2018 and in terms of career per-game averages.
He doesn’t jump off the tape as an elite athlete — although he did register a strong 77th percentile SPARQ score at the Combine. But he understands how to create separation and can pick up yards after the catch.
It doesn’t hurt that he excelled on the outside late this past season, but Brown projects best as a “big slot” at the next level. Think JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Brown’s combination of size, college production and route-running ability make him a relatively safe prospect. But he doesn’t project as a big TD guy and might be used mostly on short and intermediate routes by his NFL squad. So he’ll probably need big volume to emerge as a true difference-maker in fantasy football.