Game-By-Game Projections: A.J. Brown (2020 Fantasy Football)
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Brown’s rookie season was . . . well, historic. He became the first player in NFL history to finish a season with 1,000 or more receiving yards on fewer than 90 targets. He led the league in yards per target, yards after the catch per reception, and yards after contact per reception. He was second in the league in passer rating per target. And he led all rookies with 2.67 yards per route run.
What makes Brown’s season even crazier is that he did almost all of his damage with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, which was only for 11 starts. If you extrapolate Brown’s stats with Tannehill out to a full season, he would have finished with 1,165 receiving yards, the seventh-most ever for a rookie wide receiver.
Because Brown relied so heavily on yards after the catch, his performance seems unsustainable. Yet can fantasy managers really afford to pass on an incredibly talented receiver that just had a historic rookie season?
Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of how things could play out for Brown this season.
Note: Fantasy scoring based on FantasyPros’ standard scoring methodology found here.
Week 1: at Broncos
The Broncos are often successful at home early in the season, as the thin air generally works to their advantage, particularly when opposing players may not be in full “football shape” yet. They were solid overall against the pass last season, allowing just 168 receptions (sixth-fewest) and 2,212 yards (eighth-fewest) to opposing wide receivers. Chris Harris Jr.. may be gone, but A.J. Bouye is on board, and both teams should play this one conservatively to open the season. Brown should be involved, but not have a dominant game.
Predicted Stat Line: 4 receptions, 59 yards, 0 receiving TDs
Week 2: vs. Jaguars
The Jaguars are almost certainly going to be one of the worst teams in the league this year and should hardly be competitive in an early-season matchup with Tennessee. The Titans shouldn’t need to throw all that much, but Brown has shown he doesn’t need an abundance of targets to put up big numbers. He’ll break a long one here and find the end zone, despite not seeing the ball all that much.
Predicted Stat Line: 3 receptions, 80 yards, 1 receiving TD
Week 3: at Vikings
Minnesota always has a tough defense, but it has taken plenty of hits to its secondary and will be exploitable through the air. Despite the loss of Stefon Diggs, the Vikings offense should be able to move the ball and put up points at home. Brown has a big day in a rare game where the Titans turn to the air.
Predicted Stat Line: 7 receptions, 111 yards, 1 receiving TD
Week 4: vs. Steelers
The Steelers’ defense is as tough as they come, particularly against the pass. Coming off a year in which they allowed just 164 receptions for 2,156 yards to wide receivers (fourth- and fifth-best in the league, respectively), they should be equally challenging for opposing offenses this season. Joe Haden can match up with most wide receivers and will do a good job keeping Brown in check here.
Predicted Stat Line: 4 receptions, 47 yards, 0 receiving TDs
Week 5: vs. Bills
The Bills are an extremely tough matchup for opposing wide receivers, allowing the third-fewest fantasy points to the position last year. Led by Tre’Davious White, they were one of the most difficult defenses to attack through the air overall. They were much more vulnerable on the ground, however, which will play right into the Titans’ strengths with Derrick Henry. Unfortunately, that’s bad news for Brown, who has one of his worst games of the season.
Predicted Stat Line: 3 receptions, 35 yards, 0 receiving TDs
Week 6: vs. Texans
In a big divisional matchup against a Texans team that always surpasses expectations, Brown gets back on track. In two meetings with the Texans last year, Brown saw 21 targets and caught 12 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns. It’s more of the same in Week 6, as Brown sees plenty of action heading into the Titans’ bye week and puts up a monster performance.
Predicted Stat Line: 8 receptions, 122 yards, 1 receiving TD
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: at Bengals
The Bengals should be an interesting team to watch this season with Joe Burrow under center, and they spent significant money this offseason bulking up their defense. But Trae Waynes is not up to the challenge of stopping Brown, especially with a bye week to refresh. Brown has a big game here.
Predicted Stat Line: 6 receptions, 90 yards, 1 receiving TD
Week 9: vs. Bears
The Bears defense remains strong, particularly against the pass and especially against wide receivers. The Bears were experts last year at keeping opposing wideouts out of the end zone (just nine touchdowns all year) and at limiting their fantasy points, and the same hold true here. It’s a conservative game all around, with Brown getting little room to put up numbers.
Predicted Stat Line: 3 receptions, 40 yards, 0 receiving TDs
Week 10: vs. Colts
In a Thursday Night Football matchup that is likely to be a major factor in which of the two teams wins the division, both are likely going to slug it out and try to avoid making mistakes. That should mean plenty of Henry and less of Brown, who saw nine targets combined in his two matchups against the Colts last year.
Predicted Stat Line: 4 receptions, 51 yards, 0 receiving TDs
Week 11: at Ravens
Although Brown’s three-target, one-catch game against Baltimore in the playoffs last season was likely more a product of game script than anything else, the fact remains that any matchup against the Ravens is going to be tough for wide receivers. Baltimore ranked fourth in defensive DVOA against the pass and allowed just 11 touchdowns to wide receivers last year, fifth-fewest in the league. Between Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, and Jimmy Smith, the Ravens are well-positioned to contain any receiver. Brown and the Titans will have trouble getting going in a late-season matchup in Baltimore.
Predicted Stat Line: 2 receptions, 21 yards, 0 receiving TDs
Week 12: at Colts
Indoors and coming off a hard-fought game with the Ravens, the Titans are going to be willing to open up the playbook a bit more in their rematch with the Colts. For the first time against Indianapolis, Brown should see plenty of targets as Tennessee looks to bounce back and keep up with the Colts, who should be able to put up points in their home stadium.
Predicted Stat Line: 6 receptions, 99 yards, 1 receiving TD
Week 13: vs. Browns
Like the Vikings did under Kevin Stefanski, the Browns should rely heavily on their run game, chewing up clock throughout. That should play perfectly for the Titans, who will look to match the gameplan with a large dose of Henry with the season getting late. That means few looks for Brown against a solid cornerback tandem of Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, though Brown will put up respectable numbers in a game where both teams will find points.
Predicted Stat Line: 3 receptions, 56 yards, 0 receiving TDs
Week 14: at Jaguars
With the Jaguars checked out mentally at this point, the Titans won’t need to throw much to cruise to an early victory. Still, with Brown’s penchant for yards after the catch, he’s able to make the most of his limited opportunities against a defense that is just waiting for the season to end.
Predicted Stat Line: 3 receptions, 80 yards, 0 receiving TDs
Week 15: vs. Lions
The Lions will be an improved team overall, and they drafted an excellent cornerback in Jeff Okudah. But Detroit’s pass defense has a long way to go to reach respectability (3,036 yards allowed to wide receivers, 29th in defensive DVOA against the pass last year). So long as Matthew Stafford is healthy, the Lions should be able to put up points, which should mean plenty of good things for Brown.
Predicted Stat Line: 5 receptions, 101 yards, 1 receiving TD
Week 16: at Packers
A Sunday Night Football matchup in Lambeau in late-December? That is hardly a situation conducive to passing success. The Packers had some warts against the pass last year, but they allowed just 11 touchdowns on the season to wide receivers. More importantly, they were far more vulnerable on the ground than through the air (ninth in defensive DVOA against the pass, 23rd against the run). That means plenty of Henry and not quite as much of Brown or Tannehill.
Predicted Stat Line: 3 receptions, 61 yards, 0 receiving TDs
Week 17: at Texans
In the final regular-season game, Brown continues his success against Houston. With the Titans locked into a Wild Card spot and giving Henry a break, Brown gets featured early and often, putting a punctuation mark on his fine season against a beatable secondary.
Predicted Stat Line: 5 receptions, 99 yards, 1 receiving TDs
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Brown is almost certainly going to see some natural regression in his numbers after the catch. But that should be balanced out by his increase in targets, which should easily top 100 this year if he maintains the same target share he saw last season once he began playing at least 65% of the snaps. That increase, along with his natural growth as a player, should lead to continued success for Brown and another excellent season.
2019 stats: 52 receptions, 1,051 receiving yards, 8 receiving TD
2020 prediction: 69 receptions,1152 receiving yards, 7 receiving TD