Fantasy Football: We Should Have Modest Expectations for A.J. Brown in 2019
The Tennessee Titans finished 29th in the NFL in passing offense a season ago, which likely contributed to the team's decision to select wide receiver A.J. Brown in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Given the early selection of Brown, the Titans struggles throwing the ball, and their desire to continue developing fifth-year quarterback Marcus Mariota, it would be logical to assume Brown is in line for a significant role in the offense right away. However, due to some other offseason transactions and a preseason injury, it does not appear to be trending that direction.
Humphries in the Way
Prior to drafting Brown in April, the Titans had signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers slot receiver Adam Humphries to a four-year, $36 million contract ($19 million guaranteed). That's a substantial investment, which likely guarantees Humphries the starting job in the slot -- or at least gives him a significant early advantage in the competition.
Unfortunately for Brown, the slot is also where he saw the majority of his playing time in college. Here's a breakdown of his career numbers at Ole Miss while lined up in the slot versus lined up outside, according to Sports Info Solutions.
|Where Lined Up||Receptions||Targets||Catch Rate||Yards Per Target||TDs|
The fact that Brown has less experience lining up out wide doesn't mean he can't develop that part of his game. It does, however, mean he'll have more to learn as a rookie, decreasing the chances of him making a significant early impact.
Injury Delaying Brown's Progress
Brown suffered a hamstring injury on the first day of training camp (July 26) and didn't return until August 11. It's unlikely the injury will affect his availability for Week 1 -- he already made his preseason debut, playing 15 snaps against the New England Patriots -- but the practice time missed could negatively affect his readiness to see a significant role early in the season.
The transition to the NFL can be tough on any rookie, especially one learning a new role in the offense. So it would not come as a surprise if Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith doesn't have enough trust in Brown to put him on the field right away.
Brown was listed behind veterans Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe on the Titans first unofficial depth chart, which indicates the coaching staff probably needs to see more before trusting him, although it's not uncommon for teams to bury rookies down on initial depth charts.
Will There Be Enough Opportunities?
According to Sports Info Solutions, only 22.4 percent of Mariota's targets were directed at receivers lined up wide last season -- the sixth-lowest rate in the league. And when Mariota does throw outside, he's typically targeting Corey Davis. Davis commanded a 42 percent target share on throws to the outside in 2018. That doesn't leave many targets for Brown and whoever else lines up wide.
It's possible Brown will eventually cut into Davis' workload, but he'll likely need to build up some trust with Mariota first. And since he's already missed a significant chunk of training camp, it's safe to assume he's well behind his teammates in that area.
Even with a lower volume of targets, Brown could become fantasy-relevant if he emerged as a weapon in the red zone. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a strong history there. During his three seasons at Ole Miss, Brown saw just 22 total red zone targets and never led the team in red zone target share, according to Sports Info Solutions.
In Tennessee, Davis is likely to remain Mariota's go-to receiver in the red zone -- he led the team with 15 red zone targets a season ago. A healthy Delanie Walker will also factor into the red zone workload.
How to Handle Brown in Your Fantasy League
Clearly, there are a lot of factors stacked against Brown making an immediate impact in Tennessee. In a standard 12-team redraft league, he probably isn't worth a late-round dart throw -- but don't completely forget about him.
The Titans wouldn't have spent a second-round pick on Brown if they didn't have hopes of him eventually becoming a dangerous weapon in the offense. It's possible his development on the outside and chemistry with Mariota will progress faster than expected.
If Brown eventually gets moved into the starting lineup, he'll be worth monitoring closely. If his target share or red zone workload exceed expectations, he could be worth an add at some point in 2019. And if he ever lands a significant role in the slot -- which might only happen due to a Humphries injury -- Brown would become a must-add due to Mariota's tendency to funnel the ball to his slot receiver.