NAME: A.J. Brown
SCHOOL: Ole Miss
POSITION: Wide Receiver
JERSEY: No. 1
RECRUITMENT RATING: 4-star
WT: 225 lbs
Separation Quickness – Not the most vertically explosive receiver, but knows how to vary stride length to create separation at the top of routes. Can drop his hips and rip off a route quickly. Needs to maintain burst out of initial cut, will sometimes slow after his break and allow defenders to close on the throwing window he’s created.
Ball Skills – Because of his size, I think the expectation is there for great accompanying ball skills, but I would say they are just slightly above average. Doesn’t have the body control and flexibility in the air to make a lot of high degree of difficulty catches outside of his frame, nor was he given tons of opportunities to do so. Does have strong hands to snag fastballs, but also suffers a handful of easy drops every year, although that number was improved this season.
Speed/Burst – Long speed is a concern on the outside, and how he runs at the Combine will be important. That said, I don’t think he’s slow, and he does a wonderful job of lulling defenders to sleep in the slot before bursting by them downfield. Most of his targets come in the short-intermediate areas of the field as a horizontal threat, but there is enough vertical ability in his game to be an asset, while at the same time clearly not being a trump card.
Route-Running – For the most part, very good route runner with impressive attention to detail. Manipulate defensive backs in off coverage with stride length, head nods and jab steps at the top of his routes. Clears downfield contact with a quick swim move to blow by corners trying to re-route him. Good bend to quickly get into his breaks, snaps hips around on slants and outs, looking for the ball right away. Must maintain burst all the way out of the break to maximize separation from man coverage. At times was given the green light just to run around until he got open, which isn’t really translatable to the NFL (or a good idea for Ole Miss’ offense).
Contested Catch – Again, Brown wasn’t targeted heavily in contested catch spots like teammates Metcalf and Lodge, but even when he was, he struggled some in this area. Lacks great elevation to rise and pluck over defenders, hops could be a weakness. Has strong hands and will box out when defenders try to come over his back on underneath routes. Down the field, struggled to finish through contact on tough catches, especially ones that required an adjustment with the ball in the air.
YAC – Not particularly explosive after the catch, but just incredibly savvy. Elusiveness is top-notch, very aware of oncoming defenders and is quick and unpredictable with his moves in the open field. Strength to run through arm tackles and consistently fall forward at the very least. Difficult man to bring down 1v1 in the open field. Vision is a strength. Lack of great burst and long speed limit his home runs as a YAC guy.
Releases – Played predominantly in the slot during his time at Ole Miss, only really seeing time as an outside receiver at the end of this past season. Lacks the nuanced footwork to clear press coverage with ease, but does have quick feet and the strength to fight through jams. Bigger corners rode him down the field and he struggled to create early separation on vertical patterns. Vs off coverage does a great job of pushing vertically, stepping on toes and breaking into his route.
Blocking – When the effort is there, the results are typically good. Extremely capable and adequately technical in his approach, but could show more of a desire to make an impact in this way. Falls off contact late at times and doesn’t work hard to re-establish position.
Competitive Toughness – Tough after the catch and physical when called upon to be. Consistent trash talker who plays confident football and won’t back down from defensive backs trying to punk him.
Athleticism/Size – Rumored to be 230 pounds, which I think is rich. No chance he’s that big, but 6-foot-1, 215-220 seems fair. Thickly built receiver with terrific physical makeup, but isn’t overly explosive or athletic either. Combine will be about checking length/speed/hops boxes.
BEST TRAIT – Route-Running
WORST TRAIT – Speed/Burst
RED FLAGS – None
Long thought of as the best receiver prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft class, I’m not even sure Brown is the first or second best receiver on Ole Miss. That speaks more to my affinity or his teammates D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge than it does my disdain for Brown however, as I actually believe the latter has real talents and a clear-cut starting role in the NFL.
The big question for Brown is, how dynamic can he be at the next level? He’s not particularly athletic or fast, and his experience lies heavily in the slot where he gets a lot of clean releases. Will an NFL team see him as a JuJu Smith-Schuster type of big slot? Brown’s ball skills aren’t anywhere near Smith-Schuster’s but he does run an impressive short-intermediate route tree and is slippery after the catch.
I think Brown can be a productive big slot in the NFL with the versatility to move outside for reps based on situation/matchup, which can certainly be valuable at the next level. First round value is a bit much for me, but I’d love him early on day two.
Route Running –In-breaking patterns have a nice snap, will separate clean against off coverage. Most effective routes work in the short/intermediate areas, where strength can shine to get off of contact. Hook routes, speed outs, whip routes, slants and shallow posts are winning routes.
Hands –Plucky hands, does well to win in tightly contested situations due to strength of the hands extend for the ball. Reliable middle of the field receiver with hands, won’t alligator arm a ball due to an arriving defender in the MOF.
Contested Catch Ability –Has hauled in some impressive catches with defenders draped off of his frame. Concentration in said situations is impressive, as is his ability to re-work into a position to challenge the ball if he’s lost leverage once the ball is in the air.
Run After Catch Ability –Strong. Difficult to corral in a head up situation due to aggressive nature and size. Has just enough wiggle to force a false step and break a pursuit angle, which then complicates tackling him due to contact balance.
Football IQ –Has made heady plays around the boundary in two minute drill situations to ensure the clock stops. Is polished with his routes and shows some good variety on route stems to keep defenders guessing and not squat on his break.
Vertical Receiving –Doesn’t have a great deal of vertical speed but if matched up one on one can separate from corners thanks to size/physicality and win slot fade patterns. Tracks the ball well over either shoulder to make reads on the ball and temper his pace to catch a pass in stride.
Change of Direction Skills –Doesn’t have a lot of spring in his cuts, nor is he classified as a shifty receiver. That said, is a smooth athlete on his feet and has an effective ability to accelerate through shallow angles to pull away from trailing coverage. RAC skills come courtesy of strength/balance.
Speed –Isn’t a burner, by any means. Won’t win a lot of 50-yard footraces. Has enough play speed when pressing hard off of the line of scrimmage to close cushion and get defenders on the defensive. Would struggle on the outside against longer cornerbacks who can pin into the boundary.
Competitive Toughness –Would love to see some greater effort with consistency. Too many reps of slow rolling off of the line of scrimmage or walking around with his ball carrier in a pile. Is tenacious with the ball in his hands, will maximize every yard of available space after the catch.
Blocking Ability –Big, physical and can be a highly effective locking hands onto defenders. Has the upper body strength to stay latched onto a block and mirror/dictate momentum of the play. Effort is not always consistent, however.
BEST TRAIT – Contested Catch Ability
WORST TRAIT – Change of Direction Skills
BEST FILM – Auburn (2018)
WORST FILM – Alabama (2018)
RED FLAGS – None
A.J. Brown projects as a powerful slot receiver who can be leaned on as a chain moving target in the middle of the field. Brown doesn’t have the short area quickness to play in more leveraged situations on the boundary, but his hands, contested catch ability and run after catch strength can shine brightly if he’s implemented between the numbers with consistency.
Routes – Executes with excellent pace and timing. Alters his stride length/tempo in his stem to set up route breaks effectively. Is guilty of rounding his cuts and isn’t the most fluid with his change of direction ability. Effective getting on the toes of the corner and breaking. Can uncover quickly in the short to intermediate areas of the field.
Hands – Illustrates the ability to extend and snatch the football out of the air, even in traffic. Is a fearless worker over the middle of the field and does well to hang on through contact. Hands are secure and he greets the ball with proper technique. Not immune to dropping a a routine pass.
Ball Skills – Doesn’t have issues finding the football and adjusting but his body control and ability to win in the air is only modest. Has the play strength and assertion at the catch point needed to win his share of contested situations. Shows the ability to extend in any direction to secure the football.
YAC Ability – Surprisingly crafty and effective after the catch as a runner. Decisive and physical with enough acceleration to rip off chunks of yardage. Illustrates good contact balance and competitive toughness as a ball carrier.
Release – Played almost exclusively from the slot in college where he was granted free releases into his routes. Did get some work outside towards the end of 2018 and it’s clear that technical work is needed to win in the contact window against press coverage. Must develop hand and footwork to clear press. Eats up cushion with long strides against off coverage.
Play Speed – Lacks top end speed to truly be a deep threat but does an excellent job of altering his tempo and attacking leverage. Has enough burst and acceleration to be dangerous after the catch. Overcomes his modest quickness with timing and nuance.
Blocking – Has the frame and strength needed to win as a blocker but technique is lacking. Feet often lag behind his upper body and he has issues staying square. Guilty of throwing a shoulder and not attempting to fit his hands inside. Doesn’t sustain blocks for long enough.
Play Strength – Has the makings of a true power forward that can keep the chains moving. Illustrates outstanding strength and balance with the ball in his hands. Must learn to use his power to win in the contact window if he’s asked to play outside.
Versatility – Has been featured as a big slot with minimal experience working outside. Vertical receiving skill set is modest and has not been tasked with duties in the return game. Has much to prove to be considered a versatile weapon.
BEST TRAIT – Hands
WORST TRAIT – Acceleration/Fluidity
RED FLAGS – None
Brown offers an appealing short to intermediate receiving skill set that is optimized from the slot given his rawness to clearing press coverage from the outside. He uncovers quickly, has strong hands and is effective creating yardage post-catch. While his frame suggests he can be an x receiver, he’s rarely been used in that capacity and needs technical work to find success in the NFL without a clean release. By year three, Brown has the makings of a prolific receiver that keeps the chains moving for his offense.
Route Running – For the majority of AJ Brown’s career at Ole Miss, he operated out of the slot. When afforded a free release, his acceleration is optimal for the position. He showed refinement in his technique, maintaining a low pad level and crisp feet on quick routes such as speed outs and hitches. When working further down the field, he showed a dead leg deceleration technique that helped his route definition. On vertical routes, he does a good job of attaching leverage fakes with hand usage to avoid being jammed. Showed a rocker step on the toes of the defensive back against Auburn that allowed him a clear inside throw in window. Does a nice job of retracing his steps downhill on curl routes, and involving his hands at the top of his routes.
Towards the end of his junior season, Brown became a primary outside receiver during the absence of teammate DK Metcalf. While operating on the outside, he showed more success on horizontal breaks and finding space over the middle. Easily possesses the lateral agility and strength to pass by contact in his stems. Generally efficient breaks, but truly at his best when able to open up his strides and use head fakes in his stem.
Brown would have an occasional false step coming out of his stance, re-loading his back leg and wasting time even when afforded with a free release. Brown consistently coasted through his breaks on in-cuts or slants, failing to accelerate at the same speed he can come off of the line with. On the outside of the formation, he was sometimes unsure about how to defeat press coverage when the cornerback showed proper discipline. While his traits are there to defeat contact, he lacked a consistent plan of attack. This issue prevented Brown from uncovering vertically and occasionally being crowded on curl breaks.
Athleticism / Speed – Brown is an interesting athlete considering what his role was for the majority of his career. He’s broad-shouldered, but I doubt he weighs in at the 230 pounds that he’s listed at. Nonetheless, he has distributed strength throughout his body. His long speed is above average and he doesn’t lack flexibility. However, despite refinement in his movement, he isn’t the most explosive athlete in short-areas or in his leaping ability. His acceleration in a straight line is solid, but you rarely, if ever, see that same acceleration in his change of direction.
Hands / Ball Skills – Brown is the definition of having strong hands, as through a 7 game sample, he’s only had one true drop. There is a conscious effort to use active hand placement and catch the ball away from his frame. While he lacks full extension and there are rare times where he allows the ball to come into his body, he is consistently holding on. Handles contact well with the strength in his hands. Adjusts to the ball when off-target and will always attempt to reach past the hands of the defensive backs.
Body Control – Brown made a number of receptions down the field and along the boundary when he was playing outside receiver, showing adeptness in his body control. Seamless running and change of direction technique with minimal wasted movements. Concerns with Brown’s body control come with an apparent struggle to truly show explosiveness while rising off of any platform. Never quite has the juice for legitimate high-point plays, even when the mid-air hip flip and extension shows up.
Ball Carrier – Brown was more effective picking up yards after the catch when he was aligning along the boundary, taking advantage of cornerbacks. When his targets expanded to the intermediate, he did a good job transitioning into a ball carrier and finding green grass. On top of that, his contact balance improved when given extra space. His quick acceleration in a straight line, hesitations and above average long speed allowed him to defeat the tackles of defensive backs.
When Brown was operating in the slot, his mass amount of underneath targets resulted in a ton of YAC opportunities. He mostly struggled making the first player miss, whether through elusiveness or contact balance. He’s exponentially better as a runner when put in a position where he’s already built up speed before the catch, otherwise there were struggles to break open.
Stalk Blocking – Brown was rarely tasked with true stalk blocking reps, more often running a route as apart of an RPO scheme before turning into a blocker. He struggled to find work or make an impact in these scenarios, despite briefly showing the ability to de-cleat a defender against LSU. In his stalk blocking reps, Brown lacked a fast approach, and consistently failed to bring his hips along with a solid punch. Occasionally, Brown would engage the defensive back with a sound base, but he lacked proper pad level. When he was able to engage, Brown would peak in at the runner rather than focus on his blocking. Due to these technique issues, Brown struggled to remain engaged or displace defensive backs.
Versatility – Probably the most interesting piece of Brown’s evaluation is his versatility. He has minimal experience as a punt returner, and likely doesn’t have the traits for that at the next level. As a slot receiver, he was rarely used vertically. There are certain techniques that Brown has yet to learn to play along the boundary at the next level. However, the rest of his traits suggest a more natural fit on the outside.
BEST TRAIT – Hands
WORST TRAIT – Versatility
RED FLAGS – N/A
AJ Brown is as interesting of a receiver prospect as there is, as his future role in the NFL is a question mark. There is little doubt in my mind that Brown would find some level of success in a Golden Tate-esque slot role at the next level. However, he may be better suited to play along the boundary or be used in a role heavy with motion. While there are concerns about how he lacks a plan against press coverage, he’s shown the traits to win through the contact window. It’s entirely possible that a team dedicates Brown’s rookie season to transitioning him to play on the outside, and could reap the benefits down the line. He has above average traits in his hands and ball skills, long speed and body control. However, there are still concerns about his explosiveness and change of direction, and that may concern an NFL team projecting him into the slot. Either way, he showed possession traits with his ability to win through contact.
In the 7 game sample I have scouted (2017 Kentucky, 2018 Alabama, LSU, Louisiana-Monroe, Auburn, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt), Brown’s catch rate has been optimal with 53 receptions on just 70 targets. With his production, Brown could easily become a top-50 selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. His value will be slightly lower than that within my grading scale, but his talent and steadiness won’t allow him to fall outside of my top-100.