Rookie Scouting Report: Wide Receiver A.J. Brown
A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Weight: 226 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.49 seconds
Vertical Jump: 36.5 inches
Broad Jump: 120 inches
3-Cone Drill: N/A
Many have Brown as their No. 1 prospect at wide receiver in this draft class, as he’s one of the few big wide receivers who’s shown the ability to play the slot role right out of school. His Combine performance was nothing to write home about, though 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash was better than I expected. Once D.K. Metcalf went down for the year, Brown showed the ability to play on the perimeter as well, eliminating some concern about his versatility.
While at Ole Miss, Brown was the top producer of the NWO (Nasty Wide Outs) trio of him, D.K. Metcalf, and Damarkus Lodge, racking up 160 receptions, 2,572 yards and 17 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Once Metcalf left the lineup with his season-ending neck injury, Brown’s production took off while racking up at least 115 yards in four straight games. He has the attitude/confidence of a top-tier NFL receiver, but does his play back it up?
Size/Versatility: 4.5 out of 5 stars
He’s built to withstand hits at six-foot and 226 pounds, which is likely why he played in the slot for Ole Miss more often than not. He’s someone who can play the possession-style role in the offense, but he also showed the ability to move out to the perimeter once D.K. Metcalf was out for the season. The best part about his size is that it doesn’t affect his play-speed. He’s built very proportionally, which isn’t something you’d expect with his measurements. He’s a natural athlete who could’ve gone on to play baseball, too. His size and versatility leave little to be desired.
Route Running/Ability to Separate: 4.0 out of 5 stars
He has very good stop/start ability for a guy his size and shows the ability to make hard 90-degree cuts while maintaining most of his speed. He can also plant his foot in the ground and stop on a dime. I’d like to see him give 100 percent all the time, as he’s someone who’ll take plays off at times. Can improve in his route-running with the tools he has at his disposal. Can do that by selling his routes a bit more, becoming a bit more violent in his movements. You’ll also see him give up on a route if he doesn’t gain separation on the first cut, something that must change. When he moved out to the perimeter, he proved that it wasn’t too much for him, gaining separation while running most routes on the route tree. He’s gifted in his route-running but that doesn’t mean it can’t be refined. Bottom line: When he wants to get open, he usually can. If coached-up, he can be dangerous.
Speed: 2.5 out of 5 stars
This might be one of the most concerning factors in Brown’s game, as his 4.49-second speed didn’t show up on film all the time. There are times when he knows how to turn the jets on and flashes the speed he has, but it’s not very often. It’s obviously good to know he possesses the ability and athleticism, but it’s more about consistency than anything. With the ball in his hands, you can see the quickness that showed up at the NFL Combine. There was one play against Auburn where he was almost lollygagging his way through the route, but the play broke down, he was tossed the ball, and all of a sudden, he had plenty of energy and wound up going for a 40-yard gain. His speed score should be around 3.5 but he gets knocked for the inconsistency.
Hands: 3.0 out of 5 stars
He’s not a body catcher, but also not a natural hands-catcher. He brings the ball in similar to the way Alshon Jeffery does, which almost seems like his palms. What I’m saying is that he doesn’t snatch the ball out of the air like some hands guys do, but he also doesn’t let the ball come all the way into his body, either. In the end, his hands are solid and dependable, though he’s not going to be known for some of the best hands in football.
Awareness: 3.5 out of 5 stars
He’s someone who gets noticeably frustrated on the field and it affects his play at times. While this is more of an intangible, awareness is the area we must put it in because he needs to be aware of his emotions and to keep them in check. He didn’t play on the perimeter much, but when in the vicinity of the sideline, he was fully aware of his surroundings and limitations. He also seems to understand where defenders are on the field at all times, as he’ll snag the ball with the defenders to his back and immediately change direction with a spin move that defied what seemed physically possible, which often resulted as them whiffing at thin air. If there’s an area he can improve here, it’s being aware of his teammates and where they’re headed. You’ll often see his running back get tackled by his defender because he wasn’t aware where the play was going.
After the Catch: 3.5 out of 5 stars
He’s tough to bring down for one defender, especially when you factor in his position on the field as the big slot receiver. Most big cornerbacks play on the perimeter, so he should be able to break plenty of tackles over the middle of the field. He does run a bit too much up-and-down, which can allow for some big hits. His size allows him to shed tacklers who aren’t heavy hitters, but he needs to brace for contact a bit more in the NFL. I’d say he’s above average when it comes to his ability after the catch.
Potential Landing Spot
This was one of the most interesting profiles I’ve ever done on a player because I feel as if there’s a significant amount of untapped potential in Brown. He flashes what can be a great player at times, while losing his cool and giving up during others. If he were to land somewhere with a mentor, he could develop into a special player. He’s likely going to be selected in the first-round, so the suitors will be limited, but I’d expect the Packers, Redskins, Ravens, Raiders, and Colts to all be interested in him. The team that would make the most sense is the Colts, as he’d be able to walk in and play the slot in-between T.Y. Hilton and Devin Funchess, but then be more of a movable chess piece once Funchess leaves (he’s on a one-year deal). The Packers arguably have two open receiver positions in three wide receiver sets, so while Metcalf makes a bit more sense there, don’t overlook Brown to the Packers at pick 12.
It’s a pretty easy comparison to make for Brown, as JuJu Smith-Schuster was someone many were torn on coming out of college as well. He flashed as a playmaker and wore his emotions on his sleeve, but he was groomed properly and was brought in to play the big slot role for the Steelers and it helped his transition that much more. I’m not making this up, either. Here’s a link to Smith-Schuster’s profile that I wrote back in 2017. While I think Smith-Schuster was a bit smoother in his ball-tracking than Brown, I’d give Brown the edge in route-running. It’s a lofty comparison, but one Brown can live up to if he gets to the place Smith-Schuster did.