At 6’1 and 225 pounds, my first thought about A.J. Brown is he looked more like a running back than a wide receiver. But once I saw him running around on the field getting in and out of his breaks smoothly, I quickly realized he is clearly playing the right position.
In the four Ole Miss games of his I watched, he did not run a wide array of routes, but the ones he did run were pretty crisp. It also doesn’t take a whole lot of routes to see that a guy is explosive, and Brown is definitely that.
He was physical when the play called for it, but he also had a good amount of speed and quickness to to go along with his strength and power. His run-after-the-catch ability was particularly impressive in that he showed he can break tackles, but, given just a little bit of space, he also showed that he can break ankles.
In addition to his ability to make something happen after the catch, Brown also showed he is a legit deep threat, especially with how he can track and catch back-shoulder fades.
He isn’t super tall, but he knows how to use his body to shield off defenders, and he uses his hands to push off just enough to put him in position to at least have a chance at hauling in most 50-50 balls. He will never be confused with a straight speed guy like a Tyreek Hill, but there are other ways to get big yardage down the field than just running by everybody.
The bonus you get with a guy like Brown is that he doesn’t have to catch deep balls to make a big impact on an offense. The truth is when he caught the ball short, the party was usually just getting started.
Of course Brown likely will have to sharpen up his route running a little as he transitions to playing receiver at the next level, but that’s not going to be that big of a deal in my estimation. The offense he was in at Ole Miss simply didn’t call for a lot of precision. It was more about dudes getting open by any means necessary, and Brown was pretty damn good at that.
At the same time, I don’t want to give the impression that he was a “bad” route runner either, because he wasn’t. Of the routes he was asked to run, he looked pretty good running all of them. He had particular success running comeback routes in the games I watched. He had a knack for getting open with that route against all different kinds of coverage, and that should carry over well to the NFL.
I would have liked to have seen him run a few skinny posts, deep out routes, and deep over/sail routes, but I don’t think he will have much problem running any of those when he gets to the league. He just wasn’t asked to do it — at least not in the four games I used for this breakdown — but he certainly looks to have the physical ability to run them all.
Brown can do a little bit of everything, from anywhere.
One thing I really liked about Brown’s film is that I was able to see him working from both out wide and in the slot. I don’t have to guess whether or not he could fit at either spot because I have seen him do it now, and thus I have no doubt that he has the ability line up and play well wherever a team wants to put him.
With his size, the fact Brown looks as comfortable lining up all over the place makes him an even more attractive prospect to me because of that versatility. For instance, you can insert him as the slot receiver and use him in the running game in a way you normally can’t with a smaller, prototypical slot receiver. I wouldn’t say Brown was a dominating blocker from the tape I watched, but you don’t have to necessarily be dominant to be effective.
If he is facing a bunch of smaller nickel corners, I’m pretty sure with his size he can block those guys up and seal the edge without giving up much, if any, ground. You don’t draft a guy high primarily for his blocking ability, but it can certainly be a plus. And it could help impact how a defense chooses to play when he is in the game.
If Brown is kicking the nickel corner’s ass in the run game, the defense could counter by trying to keep a linebacker on him instead. That could create a huge mismatch in the passing game all day in Brown’s favor. And, to be clear, I think Brown against most nickel cornerbacks in the passing game would be a physical mismatch in Brown’s favor, too.
Keep in mind, he doesn’t have to play inside at the slot either. Brown looks perfectly capable of winning consistently from out wide. He is physical enough and quick enough to win at the line of scrimmage, and fast enough and quick enough to get open against most cornerbacks. But, as I have said before, it’s not like there are a lot of teams playing a ton of press coverage these days, anyway. Brown can play wherever a team wants to line him up; it’s just a matter of how it decides to use him.
Another positive attribute I saw on Brown’s tape was that he also has pretty good hand-eye coordination. He usually did a great job of tracking the ball in the air and putting himself in the best position to try to come down with it. He wasn’t always able to haul those passes in, but he didn’t have a single drop in those four games I watched and that was very impressive.
So you have a guy in Brown who can have plenty of success on downfield throws, who can also turn a 5-yard slant into a 30-yard gain in a hurry, and who also happens to have some pretty sure hands. That’s a hellafied combination for a wide receiver if you ask me!
There are two weaknesses he needs to clean up in the NFL.
Of course that doesn’t mean there aren’t some concerns with Brown.
For one, he appeared to almost always carry the ball in his right arm, even when he was running up the left sideline. That little “quirk” allowed one team to force him into a fumble, and I saw several times when players were grabbing at the ball, too.
Brown was fortunate to be able to recover that one fumble himself, but he has to be able to secure the ball in his left hand when he is on the left sideline, or he is going to end up painting a big-ass target on his back.
Carrying the ball in your outside hand not only usually allows the offensive player to use their off hand to ward defenders off, it also makes it so that if the ball is fumbled it will usually go out of bounds. When you carry the ball in your inside hand and it gets knocked out, there is a better chance of it staying in the field of play where the defense can recover it.
Defensive players are going to be chomping at the bit to try to punch the ball out every time they see Brown running with the ball in the “wrong” hand. It is probably something he has always done since he was a kid, but if he starts fumbling early his team is going to have a big issue with that. Poor ball security can get damn near anybody benched, and it also could negatively affect Brown’s confidence.
I’m also a little concerned about Brown’s ability to make contested catches on shorter routes. There were several plays that I saw where when he had a guy draped over him, or a guy driving on the ball on routes that didn’t go more than 15 yards down the field, and his hands weren’t as steady as I would have liked.
For him to be a serious threat from the slot, Brown will have to make a lot of catches with a guy right on him, or with a guy driving on the throw to blow him up. That’s just the life of slot receivers, especially with all the crossing routes they usually run. Nobody is going to make all of those kinds of catches, but the top ones will find a way to come down with their fair share of them.
I’m not even sure that whichever team that drafts Brown will use him in the slot a lot, but if it does, that is something he will probably need to improve on.
Brown is better than his stats — and even those are good.
Even with those concerns, I still believe Brown will be a top-notch playmaker in the NFL after watching his tape.
I actually thought he outplayed his numbers in those four games. As is almost always the case with wide receivers, he was only able to make as much of an impact as his quarterback gave him a chance to, and, unfortunately, Ole Miss’ quarterback wasn’t the steadiest guy I’ve ever seen in the pocket.
There were quite a few plays where Brown appeared to be wide open and his quarterback either went elsewhere, or just pulled the ball down and tried to run with it instead of trying to get the pass off.
Now with Ole Miss’ roster of receivers it was hard to be mad when the ball went to other guys because they, somehow, had a bunch of ballers on that squad at the position. But it was pretty frustrating to watch several occasions where receivers were open, including Brown, and the quarterback simply decided not to try to throw it to any of them with as much talent as he had around him.
I can’t imagine how it must’ve felt to be an Ole Miss fan watching that last season.
Thankfully this breakdown is not on the quarterback, but I did feel the need to add context to Brown’s level of production. Don’t get me wrong: 29 catches and two touchdowns in four games is not too shabby at all. Neither is the 1,320 receiving yards he totaled for the season. However, after seeing what Brown was able to do with the opportunities he was given, I just really believe with more targets his numbers would have been silly. Maybe in other games they were feeding him, but it never felt like they were really trying to get Brown the ball in any of the games that I watched, and a lot of that fell on the quarterback.
There’s a former NFL receiver Brown resembles: Anquan Boldin.
On another note, I’ll tell you who Brown reminds me of on the field and that’s a young Anquan Boldin. I felt that way before I googled Boldin and saw that he was listed at almost mirror image dimensions of Brown at 6’1 and 220 pounds. I believe Brown can have a similar kind of physicality to his game as Boldin, but I will also point out that Brown looks like he might be a hair faster than Boldin on tape.
Brown still has a way to go to show me he has the kind of hands Boldin had in terms of making tough catches in traffic, but the potential is all there for Brown to have a Boldin-type impact in the league, barring injury.
In case you have already forgotten, Boldin went for over 1,000 yards and had seven or more touchdowns in seven different seasons in the NFL. Again, I’m not saying Brown is definitely going to be who Boldin was, but he definitely has the potential to be that.
And then some.
No matter when he’s drafted, Brown has a high NFL ceiling.
Because he is the first receiver and only the second draft profile I have done so far this spring, I can’t really say where Brown fits in the hierarchy of other prospects in this draft, both in general and at his position. But what I can say is that he checks pretty much every box for me. I see a guy with a ton of potential, and the only knocks I have on him should be relatively easy to fix.
With the kind of skillset Brown brings to the table, as well as with the impressive plays he put on tape, he is without question a first-round talent as far as I’m concerned, and I would say that in most years he would probably be worth at least a pick somewhere around the middle of the first round.
I see Brown as at least a guy who can lead his team in catches and touchdowns by his second or third season in the league. There are already so many talented young wide receivers in the league that it’s hard to project Brown as a definite Pro Bowler or All-Pro player, but I do think he will be putting up those kinds numbers by that time as well.
I really can’t wait to see his game expand in the pros, and I hope he goes to a team that has a decent quarterback who will give him a chance to show all that he can do.
For the purposes of this article I watched A.J. Brown play against Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt. Those represented the third, eighth, 10th, and 12th games on Ole Miss’ schedule last season, respectively.