Fantasy Outlook: AJ Brown (2021)

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College Career

A.J. Brown was a monster in college, which comes as no surprise given what he's done in the league. He surpassed 1,250 yards in both his sophomore and junior seasons and ended his career with 2,984 receiving yards, the most in Ole Miss history. What is a surprise, is looking at Ole Miss' offense in 2017, which had Brown, Jordan Wilkins, Van Jefferson, DK Metcalf, and Dawson Knox…and finished 6 and 6, and 5th in the SEC in offense. I know that adds nothing to this fantasy outlook but I just want everyone to know how bad of a coach Matt Luke is. Anyway, Brown showed elite skills in college and was universally lauded as a top-tier talent. However, he was almost exclusively used out of the slot, leading to questions about his long separation and flexibility at the next level. Still, he was a consensus top 5 choice at the position and was taken in the second round at pick 51 by the Tennessee Titans.

Draft Team/Year 1

The Titans were coming off a relatively successful season going 9-7 but just missing the playoffs. What wasn't successful, was their passing game, which finished 4th worse in the league, and outside of Corey Davis' mediocre 891-yard season, no one else on the team eclipsed 500 yards receiving. So yeah, get them receiver help.

And that's what they did, adding AJ Brown in the second round and taking possibly the most NFL-ready WR in the draft. To say he made an instant impact would be a bit of an understatement. Brown showed he wasn't just a slot receiver, establishing a great rapport with Ryan Tannehill who took over halfway through the season. In his first season in the league, Brown amassed 1,051 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns, finishing top among rookies and 20th among wide receivers in PPR fantasy points (and 10th in STD point leagues).

2020 Season

Obviously, expectations were high heading into 2020. Brown was coming off a monster campaign and had a year under his belt. Equally important was the potential of a full season with suddenly good Ryan Tannehill. And Brown did not disappoint. A first pass look at his stats seems to reveal a similar campaign to 2019, Brown caught 70 balls for 1075 yards and 11 touchdowns. But the underlying stats tell a different story, one of a truly dominant receiver. Brown actually missed weeks 2 and 3 with injury, and with those games thrown out, Brown would have ranked as the 4th highest scoring WR in the league. Add in his growing chemistry with Ryan Tannehill and one of the largest target shares of any wide receiver in the league (28%) and Brown illustrated that he is a true WR1 for fantasy.

2021 Outlook

The Titan's offense has had an interesting off-season. Let's start with the constants, which would be Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, and the offensive line. Starting with Tannehill, he's on year two of his four-year contract with the Titans and has continued to show improvement leading this offense. It's a scheme that plays to his strengths and relies heavily on the run, but Tannehill has shown the competence of an above-average quarterback with decent accuracy and deep-ball ability.

Derrick Henry is still Derrick Henry.

For the offensive line, they will get a big boost with the return of Taylor Lewan from injury. It's a unit whose specialty is running blocking over pass blocking (finishing 6th in running blocking and 25th in pass blocking according to PFF,) but should see improvement overall with better right tackle play than the dismal performance from that spot last year. With 4 returning starters and promising competition on the right, the offensive line is in good shape.

Where it gets interesting is with the pass catchers. Gone are Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith, who accounted for 157 of the 468 total targets for the Titans offense. And enter, one Julio Jones. That’s quite a bit of change in how the passing game scheme will work and how teams will have to guard the Titans. Anthony Firkser remains at TE, but that's more of a footnote, he will see 65 targets and be fine.

Anyway, back to the fact that this team now has JULIO JONES ON IT. Not sure I fully processed that until this outlook. There are two schools of thought here: Either Jones will soak up a ton of targets making Brown slightly less valuable. Or Jones will free up AJ Brown from bracket coverage and they are both going to go off. If I was to pick a camp, I'm in the, "gonna be impossible to cover both these players," camp. Corey Davis alone saw 92 targets last year. Jones may put a small dent in that 28% target share, but not enough to outweigh what consistent single coverage is going to do for AJ Brown.

So, at the end of the day, with an excellent running game, decent offensive line, and a new receiving threat drawing away coverage, AJ Brown looks set for another monster year. I don't quite see him in the same tier as the Adams/Hill/Diggs/Hopkins because of the Titans love for running the ball, but he has an extremely high floor and should be locked in as a mid-tier WR1 heading for the 2021 season..

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