Former Runnin’ Rebel receiver Arthur James (A.J.) Brown seems like a fun guy to hang out with.
The NFL Network series Path to Nashville shows the lighter side to the players amidst their intensive pre-draft training chronicles. After giving it a watch I thought A.J. seems cool. If A.J. asked me to kick it... I’d definitely tell him “yes you can.” However, the more pressing question is can Brown catch it? In the words of A Tribe Called Quest, “yes he can.” According to Kyle Crabbs’ free comprehensive draft guide over at The Draft Network, Brown is a “plug and play starter from Day 1.” Here’s the rest of his scouting overview of Brown:
Additional numbers according to PFF—
- 10-Yard Split- 1.55s
- Catch Rate- 74% (extremely high)
- Drop Rate- 5.6% (ranked 62nd in NCAA)
- Deep Pass Catch Rate- 41.7% (ranked 63rd in NCAA)
- Slot Receptions/Yards- 59/800 (12/13th in NCAA)
PFF graded Brown as “plus” (+) or “plus plus” (++) in all measurable categories. In other words... A.J. checks every box.
- Possesses strong hands that make a perfect diamond. greeting the ball, and plucking it out of the air... ++... check.
- Displays naturally gifted ball carrier ability after the catch. He’s quick enough to juke you, fast enough to outrun you to a spot, strong enough to run through you, long enough to stiff arm you, and has the vision to see it all happen before you can. YAC monster... ++...check
- He has the size, technique, and ability as an effective blocker. He will lay a cold shoulder if you don’t keep your eyes peeled. He’s chippy— which you can see below in this clip by NFL Network personality and analyst Nate Burleson...++... check.
Brown attacks one of the best safeties in the 2019 draft, Johnathan Abram, at the end of Burleson’s film session. Abram isn’t exactly known to be knocked back easily:
This brutal hit by Jonathan Abram on Bennie Braswell ended Mississippi State's spring game early. pic.twitter.com/Yvlq3sJPIu— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) April 8, 2017
That hit was against Abram’s OWN teammate. This just goes to show the toughness that Brown can bring as a ball carrier.
Let’s take a look at some more clips of Brown. These are some of his extremely positive reps:
Yeah buddy!!! 2 threads in one day!!!— Dynasty Price (@DynastyPrice) April 8, 2019
AJ Brown - A Thread
After my deeper dive, I like AJ Brown on par with Harry for WR1. He has no obvious weaknesses in his game and is as pro ready as they come. Can win from everywhere on the field, including the slot. pic.twitter.com/UoL2WJ2Izq
How did A.J. Brown catch this? pic.twitter.com/vm0ndRVTMu— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 10, 2018
When I watch A.J. Brown, one word comes to mind. Smooth. You know that one guy growing up who could just dribble a basketball better than you? That’s him. In his routes, the open field, and anywhere in between he regularly crosses defenders up. His combination of sound footwork, outstanding ankle flexion, and high football I.Q. often set him up for success anywhere on the field. Brown is also a current member of the San Diego Padres’ organization, and a great multi sport athlete (which in my opinion is pivotal to success in the NFL). Growing up, Brown was definitely the best athlete on the field no matter if he had a glove, helmet or basketball.
In my previous article I broke down Brown’s Ole Miss’ teammate D.K. Metcalf. Many draft pundits have referred to Metcalf as Batman, or say he looks like he’s wearing a batman suit with his chiseled physique. If there was a Robin to Metcalf’s Batman, it wasn’t Brown. Of the bunch, I would call fellow Rebel WR Demarkus Lodge the Robin of the group. However, I’m going to put forth that Metcalf is actually Superman. He has one mortal flaw, his injury history and potentially brittle bones. That’s Metcalf’s kryptonite. A.J. is the Batman of the group. He’s an extremely impressive physical specimen, but he doesn’t just beat you with power and pure athleticism. He uses his cunning and high football I.Q. to set you up, then is probably a better athlete than you once he gets the ball.
Brown has snaps off clean breaks and footwork at the top of his routes. He effectively shields the ball away from the defender while using his frame well. He picks his spots to high point the ball... or when to let the ball come to him. He has the ability to separate on deep balls by varying his route speed, slowing down and exploding into breaks at their apex.
An extremely interesting situation occurred when Metcalf suffered a devastating neck injury during the 2018 season. Brown had been used mostly as a slot receiver, kicking out wide in various formations occasionally. Metcalf STRICTLY played as a boundary receiver on the outside because of his outstanding ability to defeat press coverage. When D.K. was injured Brown kicked out wide to take some of those reps. When Brown was pressed by corners with good technique he often struggled to get off the line or separate.
Brown isn’t terrible against the press, but has a lot of work to do if he wants to split out wide effectively. He’s big and strong. That shows in his blocking and his ability with the ball in his hands. As a route runner, he’s extremely fluid using jab-steps, head fakes, double moves, and varies his route speed. He’s more of a finesse route runner. All of those things are absolutely amazing aspects of his game, but he needs to bring some of that head hunter mentality to corners when they try to press him.
Brown doesn’t seem to have much of a plan against the press, kind of free-styling it after the whistle. N’Keal Harry needs to do a lot of work against the press as well, but at least he seems to have more of a plan/feel for it.
ok.. now onto the things that worry me.. the next 7 clips or so are him vs press.. his success this game came from off coverage... vs press he was pretty much erased.. and that worries me going into the NFL. Brown 1v1 up top pic.twitter.com/pqUXQxz89u— CrockTIME (@eric_crocker) March 9, 2019
If Brown is more physical to fight the jams, protects his chest plate, and continues to attempt to push and step on the corners toes, he will improve. I’m sure that he will improve in this aspect as a receiver with a little coaching at the professional level.
Lastly, Brown was one of the most productive receivers in college football over the past two seasons, and is arguably the most prolific receiver in the University of Mississippi’s illustrious history. He averaged over 100 yards-per-game in each of the last two years, and found ways to contribute against most opponents in different ways. He was doing this against SEC competition, which isn’t to be taken lightly. He is going to light up PPR leagues in the fantasy football seasons to come because he’s a ball magnet.
Pertaining to the Ravens, as I discussed in my first article of the series, we need to look at Brown’s skill-set, and ask how it would fit in the Ravens offense. Brown excels as a slot receiver, and is still developing as an outside receiver against the press. I mentioned a few aspects Brown might be able to work on (I’m sure he already has been after the combine) to be the best receiver he can be. Given a cushion against soft coverage Brown can blow right by a lot of corners. He also is able to snap off his routes cleanly and works back to the ball extremely well. He isn’t the BEST contested catch receiver, but his great tracking skills, big frame, and solid hands would work well with Lamar. Because of his ability with the ball in his hands Brown could come in motion, line up in the backfield, and maybe even take a few carries. He’s certainly large enough to survive taking handoffs. If you look at how Baylor used Jalen Hurd (who converted from a 1,000-yard SEC RB to a 900-yard Big-12 receiver) there’s a blueprint for some wrinkles in Roman’s offense. Brown has juice with the ball in his hands, so take advantage of it. He kind of reminds me of the greatest RB of my generation, Boobie Miles.
At first A.J. might struggle to find a role in the offense that already has proven slot receiver Willie Snead IV, and another veteran slot in Seth Roberts. Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst also are assumed to take snaps from the slot. A.J. could certainly work into that rotation, but the Ravens need someone who can go split out wide on an island and win against the press. That will open up things underneath.
If A.J. fell to 22 (I would give it a 50/50 shot) then the Ravens will consider taking him, particularly before guys like Parris Campbell, N’Keal Harry, and more. If the Ravens picked him at 22 I would love to see them double dip later in rounds 3-5 and try to steal someone like JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Hakeem Butler, Mecole Hardman, Deebo Samuel, Anthony Ratliff-Williams, who are more experienced working from the boundary. Those prospects project to beat the press and/or take the top off, allowing Brown to work more underneath where he really excels. If it were possible for the Ravens to acquire Metcalf AND Brown they would be the perfect yin and yang. I would expect that duo to outshine Jarvis and OBJ by the end of the 2020 season. Unfortunately that would likely require two first round picks.
Considering the Ravens don’t currently possess a second top 65 pick, have a severe need to find a starting G/C in this draft, and need to find someone to replace the QB pressures that left with Suggs and Z. Smith, I would prefer to select an IOL in the first round, then see if they can hit on one of the other receivers I mentioned in the second or third round, and follow up with another playmaker and/or pass rusher.
If the Ravens take A.J. Brown at 22 or trade back and take him slightly later, I project he would have (in a vacuum) around 50-60 catches, 600-800 yards, 3-5 TDs in his rookie season.
A.J. Brown is also a proud New England Patriots fan, which would be a nice little story line considering the Ravens square off against them in the regular season this year.
A.J. Brown player comparison: Jarvis Landry/Juju Smith-Schuster
A.J. Brown Game of Thrones player comparison: Grey Worm. He has a combination of size, quickness speed, and fury. He brings a quiet fury to his game, has many weapons in his repertoire and uses all of them to defeat his opponents. He seems to lack cojones against the press, though (shots fired).