Ole Miss had one of, if not the best wide receiver group in the country this past season. With D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge working outside, and A.J. Brown in the slot, the passing game was lethal. NFL bound Dawson Knox played tight end also, acting as another threat through the air. While Metcalf got injured and later became the consensus top receiver for the draft, Brown took a lot of heat.
The Misconception of A.J. Brown
This summer, Brown and Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry were considered the top two receivers for the draft. Harry got out to a blistering start to the season, solidifying his name and matching his expectation. The thing with Brown though is Ole Miss lined him up in the slot. He averaged seven receptions per game, but it’s difficult to break plays loose from the slot.
Brown seems capable of playing on the outside. He is quick and a very nuanced route runner. Of the wide receivers I’ve studied thus far, I wouldn’t hesitate to say he’s the best route runner of the group. The problem though is that the public loves splash plays. Brown was very consistent, very reliable, but didn’t have the splash plays that some of the other big names did. With that, his name fell through the cracks a little.
Brown was very good this season, just as he was last year. The problem is that the expectation was there for him to be successful. Unfortunately, his summer hype made it difficult to turn heads, based on the fact that anything he did well was just a part of the expectations. Meanwhile, every mistake gets nitpicked. It’s part of what makes being an NFL prospect so difficult.
The numbers were there to justify his season as a special one, and surely not a disappointment. The traits are there to prove himself as one of the better wide receiver prospects in the draft. His route running is exceptional, his hands are good and his body control and yards after the catch are special. His limitations have been overstated due to the percentage of plays that came out of the slot. It may take an adjustment period, but the traits show that he can transition to the outside.
He has the speed to burn defenders, the intelligence, and route running to bait defenders into making wrong reads. For any team in need of a wide receiver, they would be wise not to overlook him simply due to the lack of hype.
Entering the season, Brown was looked at as a top half of the first rounder. Since then, his draft stock has fallen off a bit. Not due to lack of production, and not due to a lack of traits, but the amount of hype that surrounded him in the preseason made it difficult to outplay his projection. Also, it doesn’t seem like any of the teams in the top half are looking for a receiver, but if they are, it seems as though his teammate Metcalf has solidified himself in that draft spot.
After that, it looks like it’ll be solely based on preference. Harry is really good with the ball in his hands, while Marquise Brown can seemingly run track. A.J. Brown has a blend of it all. It seems at this point that his draft stock would point to him being drafted on day two, but if not, he seems more likely to fall to the fourth than he does being drafted on day one.
Even though his stock has fallen off, don’t discount Brown. He is one of the most pro-ready wide receivers in the draft. His route running and athleticism is almost a guarantee to translate to the NFL, whereas some other players may be a little more risky of a pick.
In the new NFL, it is becoming even more important to have the slot receiver. Teams like the Rams are thriving off of three-receiver sets. It’s all about preference, but if any team has a need in the slot, Brown is an amazing option and would be a steal if he falls to the third or the fourth round.
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