by Alex Kurpeski
You’ve probably heard the phrase “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” at some point in your life. Perhaps it was used anecdotally by a wrestling announcer on your living room television (shoutout Jerry “The King” Lawler by the way). In the case of fantasy football, the phrase doesn’t necessarily correlate to the size of the player in question (the one who’s falling) although in some cases (Eddie Lacy), it does apply to that aspect. In fact, the “fall” in question actually refers to a player’s regression, particularly in the case of guys (like Lacy) who go from first-round pick to washout within the blink of an eye. In my best attempts to advise you to not end up like the guys who bet on Lacy many years ago, let’s discuss the regression of A.J Brown in 2020.
Now I know this piece may rub a lot of fantasy enthusiasts the wrong way, but hear me out on this one.
Recency bias is a tricky thing, as most Brown stans will point to his very small sample size of dominance as evidence for a more significant breakout in 2020, ignoring some important contextual elements. In these games, Brown caught less than five passes, buoying his performance with somewhat flukey big yards-after-the-catch plays that cannot be counted on as a sticky measure of his abilities. Moreover, Brown’s performance in the playoffs was far from inspiring, as he caught just 5 of his 10 targets for only 64 yards during this three-game stretch.
While I’m not denying the fact that Brown has some incredible talent, I do feel like the FANTASY hype surrounding him is a bit overblown. Sure, Brown is due to see positive regression in the reception category (Brown’s 52 catches from 2019 will almost certainly be topped this season) as the second-year playmaker will be expected to take on a much larger role in the passing game. However, I do see the former Ole Miss star taking a hit in virtually every other category for a variety of reasons.
While Brown benefited heavily from the Titans run-heavy offense — best evidenced by the fact that his 646 receiving yards on play-action calls were the most of any receiver in the league — the sheer lack of volume that Tennessee’s offense allows for their pass-catchers offers room for pessimism in regards to Brown’s odds of continuing to stretch the field in the many that he did.
A.J Brown is without a doubt an awesome player; he led the league in fantasy points per route run with an average of 0.71 while leading all rookies in receptions of 20+ yards and downfield receiving yardage.
Most receiving yards by a rookie on passes 20+ yards downfield in 2019:
1. A.J. Brown – 378
2. Terry McLaurin – 366
3. D.K. Metcalf – 362
4. Marquise Brown – 266 pic.twitter.com/XMjC5G8i3A
— PFF (@PFF) July 12, 2020
Of course, Brown was a fantasy football darling in the second half of 2019, accounting for at least 100 receiving yards and a touchdown in four of the final six games of the season, carrying numerous fantasy managers to championships in the process.
But it’s important to remember that second-year wideout will be seeing the coverage typically reserved for a team’s best receiver far more often this season than he did last year, which should free up his fellow playmakers like Corey Davis (still extremely talented), Adam Humphries (still an efficient target in the slot), and Jonnu Smith (still extremely athletic) who all disappointed last season. While some of the targets vacated by Tajae Sharpe, Delanie Walker, and Dion Lewis could be redistributed to Brown, it’s more likely that they will trickle down to guys like Smith, rookie running back Darrynton Evans, and Davis (who was said to have played through a severe case of turf toe for most of 2019).
As much as I love Brown as a player, I do see him regressing this year. However, I see this regression more as a testament to how excellent he was as a rookie rather than a condemnation of his abilities. The standard that he has set is simply too high when factoring in his situation, thus these are my predictions for Brown this season:
A.J Brown Projection:
- 64 receptions (+12 from 2019)
- 100 targets (+16 from 2019)
- 914 receiving yards (-137 from 2019)
- 4 receiving TDs (-4 from 2019)
- 179.4 fantasy points ~WR31 (-10 spots from 2019)
Brown will certainly be an excellent fantasy asset this season, although I do not see him venturing into WR1 territory at any point purely due to lack of volume and game script. 2021, however, could be another story altogether.