AJ Brown – Draft Steal

Every year I get a feeling about one or two players that will make it big-time. These are players that are identified through gut-instinct (and a bit of analysis) and it shows once they reach the NFL. Over the past few years, these have included Kerryon Johnson, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaire Alexandre. This year the two top-end talents that seemed steals were Devin Bush and AJ Brown. AJ Brown dropped in the draft due to an infactuation with DK Metcalf and and the speed of Holywood Brown. It was seen as Brown was average in every department, didn’t have the insane phyique of Metcalf and the field was opened up with Damarkus Lodge, Metcalf and Dawson Knox at Ole Miss. Brown was a “good” player that would make it in the NFL but he is actually so much more. He can play inside or outside, with 4.49 40 yard which quashed the theory of his lack of speed. He had 2 seasons with over 1000yds with his Junior (final) season reaching 1,320yds on 85rec and a second first-team all SEC pick.

The tape showed that this guy was a first round pick and better than Metcalf, N’Keal Harry and Hollywood Brown. This is why when pick 32 popped onto screen with the Pats needing a WR, I fully expected to hear the name AJ Brown. A smart WR that could play inside or outside, that had sneaky speed and was undervalued for his “lack” of something special. The Pats went for N’Keal Harry instead as an insurance policy (which turns out was needed) for Josh Gordon as an effective jump-ball specialist. Their loss would be another teams gain. that turned out to be the Titans (or New England South) with pick 51.

With Mariota and Tannehill at QB, I honestly though that Brown’s career was over before it started, but it wasn’t. The checkdown king of Tennesse lit it up on the opening Sunday with the brand new rookie out there. Brown caught 3rec (4 targets) for 100yds with a long of 51yds which displayed all that speed some doubted he had. Over the first 8 games Brown is averaging 43.5yds a game with Mariota, who was then benched for Tannehill, a guy who wasn’t even able to start for the Dolphins-the worst team in football (to be fair, it’s probably he was deemed to good, he might win games). The defenses of the NFL are respecting him. Knowing that Corey Davis hasn’t yet blossomed into the 1st round WR he is and Delanie Walker is declining (if only through injuries). His cushion is an average of 5.3yds, more than the deep threat of Taylor Gabriel. Where he really makes his mark is on the medium routes, displayed by his 10.8 air yds per target (Next Gen Stats) which is more than DeAndre Hopkins, Paul Richrdson and Cooper Kupp. Despite only getting an average of 2.3yds seperation (not a long time to get open with the Titans O-Line) he has a catch rate of 64.71% which is better than Alshon Jeffrey (63.8%) and Robert Woods (63.3%). To add to this he is getting an average of 6 YAC which is almost double his expected 3.3 YAC (Next Gen Stats). Overall, he is a WR who was undervalued on draft day. Got drafted to a team with no QB. Yet is producing averages (in a system where he is the NO.2 to NO.3 option) which are on par and better than some of the big names. He has deep threat speed, sure hands that are better than any other rookie WR and a YAC threat. Brown is the complete receiver. His skill is that he is good at everything rather than a specific. Currently he is being wasted on a Tennesse team that is without a competent QB.

However, the Titans have a strong RB core, complementary receivers to Brown (when he becomes the NO.1) and a stingy defense with a terrific coach in Mike Vrabel. They need a young TE (can get late in drafts, just like Dawson Knox), an interio of the O-Line and a QB. O-Line can be picked up in free agancy which just leaves the matter of a QB. Washington are a good trade partner at the top of the draft (pick 2 or 3) as they already have a QB in Haskins. As a result, the Titans should look to trade up. Personnely, I like Burrows this year (always cautious of Bama QBs) and Tennesse should trade up to get him, or try and find value in the mid rounds (like Russell Wilson). Brown is the future at WR for the Titans, they got a steal. Now they need a QB and they will be a true Superbowl contender, this time lets hope they aren’t 1 yard short.

The Future Of QB

Looking around the league, there seems to be a great division in age of the top QBs. They are either veterans in their late 30s (Brady, Brees and Rivers) or young and exciting. Only Russell Wilson seems to truly fill the void. This means that it is time to look ahead to our next Brady-Manning duel throughout the years. Currently, 3 QBs stand out: Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens), Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs) and Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans).

Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens)

This is the least proven of the 3. In his second year he is taking the league over and one of the favourites for MVP. The ultimate duel threat QB which has put defensive powerhouses in their place (most notably, the NO.1 defense in the rout of the New England Patriots). He may only rank 19 in passing yards (2258) but is 6th in yards/attempt (8.1). This shows incredible improvement over last year. He is using all weapons at his disposal, maily Willie Snead, the former New Orleans Saint who has been a repeated 3rd down target. Then there is Jackson’s use of Mark Andrews. Andrews is fast becoming a top tight end in the league. Against zone, he is always finding gaps of hitch or curl routes and is large enough to fend of defenders when running down the seam in man coverage. Jackson has used all these threats well, Coach Harbaugh (John) has completely rerworked this offense to suit and it has paid off with the team being Superbowl favourites.

The most impressive part of Jackson’s play is that he is a pocket passer most of the time. Jackson is always looking to pass first. Unlike Michael Vick, he has a pure understanding of all route-concepts and would rather have a 5 yard pass over a 5 yard run. This should help him survive in a league where QBs out of the pocket are going to get popped. Jackson, when he does run, is not a sitting duck however. He spun in and out of Bengal defenders like they were 7-year-olds and must have eluded at least 3 sure-fire sacks when playing the Patriots.

However, caution is always advised with only one great year on the resume. This team is first of all thriving on a strong rushing attack led by 29 year old Mark Ingram and Gus “The Bus” Edwards. Any running game can turn each year (see Patriots last year compared to this year) and even game to game depending of the defense’s strenghs. Jackson is a great passer but he will never have the touch of Brees, power of Farve or understanding of Brady. Therefore, it won’t be long until a defensive game plan is schemed and will slow him down. This is inevitable but what is the main question is will he improve past it or be stuck in neutral like Sean McVay’s Rams offense.

Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Cheifs)

The reigning MVP took the league by storm last year. No-look passes and left-handed throws filled up highlight boards. The only team that posed any issues for him were the Patriots but never more than a half (1st half twice and 2nd half week 14 this year). He was perhaps the closest in a long-run of challengers to the great Tom Brady and was a coin flip and 1 drive away from dethroning him. However, that did not happen. Instead, Mahomes has fire in him to get over that final hurdle this year and has even powered his way through a nasty ankle injury on his way to 3,266 yards and 21 TDs 3INTs in only 10 games. I loved Mahomes last year, but this year has been more impressive, even if it’s not MVP worthy.

In year 1 (excluding his rookie year sitting behind Alex Smith), teams have no tape on the guy, they don’t know how he’ll compete in the pros. Therefore he received coverages forcing him to pass in his early games. Then when defenses started to key in on him, Mahomes took advantage of personel groupings due to weapons of Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. This was exploited in the week 6 matchup against the Patriots when the Pats were able to hold him to 9 first hald points. Then Hill, Hunt and Kelce happerned. They started getting a few yards of seperation and after Mahomes connected a few times, built confidence and started frying the Patriots’ secondary. This year has been a different story.

Mahomes battled injury early this season. One injury is not enough to get classed as injury prone and therefore this should not be judged against him. Instead, it showed a QB that is willing to tough it out for the team despite obvious discomfort. Then, there was the injury to Tyreek Hill, the loss of Kareem Hunt and sub-par O-Line play. While the rest of the league has been drooling over Lamar Jackson (can’t blame them), meanwhile, Mahomes has been trying to reinviggor a Kansas City team that doesn’t seem to have that same energy as last year. The defense has only marginaly improved and the running game has turned to dust. This is why I find this season a more defining one for Mahomes because it gives me confidence that he will be able to continue at this level in future years. He can’t win MVP this year because an MVP can’t miss games and there’s the issue of Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Christian McCaffery and Michael Thomas but Mahomes has ceartainly shown he is a future star.

Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)

Speaking of QB’s who push through pain barriers, teamates injuries and dismal O-Line play. Watson is the King of such categories. I truly believe that this is the guy who will become the best QB (along with Russell Wilson) for the next 10 years. Watson has a career rating 102.3 (above Jackson, 101, and behind Mahomes 109.3) and has achieved that rating playing behind perhaps the worst 3 years of O-Line play, a single franchise has seen since 2010. There is no doubt that coming out of Clemson, Watson was not the finished article. He kept the ball too long which made his O-Line look even worse and would every now and again throw a mind-boggling interception. He also relied too much on Deandre Hopkins but that was probably just the Texans game plan at that stage. Will Fuller was injured seemingly every other game and an O-Line filled with Giants level Erick Flowers. But then Watson improved. This is the year were he has finally come into the public eye. Watson has been one of the best young QBs in the game since he started and he has done it with less than other QBs. Then the Texans fired their GM and trade mayhem entered. The defense got worse on paper (actually almost as good without Clowney) a top 7 left tackle to protect his blind side. This means Watson is not on pace to be sacked the most times in the league this year (unlike last year). A rookie right tackle in Tytus Howard which could protect Watson for many years to come. A Will Fuller that isn’t always injured and suddenly, Watson looks to be leading a potential Superbowl team. Yes, the Texans just got blown out by Drew Lock and the Broncos but he battled to the end. Watson makes amaxing plays as well. Whether against New England in 2017 or after being kicked in the eye when playing the Raiders this year, Watson is a star and will continue to be like this for many years to come. If the defense improves and Tytus Howard comes on, this team could be Superbowl bound in the next 2 years.