A.J. Brown’s Elite Fantasy Football Upside Is Being Undervalued
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown is coming off an explosive debut season.
The 2019 leading rookie receiver burst onto the scene in impressive fashion, pushing the Titans into the playoff picture. While he finished as the WR21 in PPR formats, his performance toward the end of the fantasy season carried teams to championships.
Coming off the board this offseason as the WR16 (41st overall), according to 12-team BestBall10’s May ADP, Brown carries a steep price. Let’s break down his breakout season and discuss why he may be undervalued despite his fairly early ADP.
Brown’s Breakout by The Numbers
Tennessee was one of the most surprising teams in 2019. After a rocky start to the year, a switch from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill flipped the switch. The Titans went 7-3 the remainder of the season after 2-4 start.
Brown was a big part of the turnaround.
In a Week 7 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers, Brown recorded season highs in receptions (six) and targets (eight). While he only had 64 yards in that game, the increase in outing was a sign of things to come.
Brown was a boom-or-bust fantasy play between Weeks 1 and 10. Over that span, he recorded only one 100-yard game, 3 touchdowns, and one weekly finish better than WR20, according to PlayerProfiler. After the Week 11 bye, Brown’s big-play ability came to the forefront. He put up four 100-yard games over the final six contests, totaling 6 touchdowns and four weekly finishes of WR7 or better.
As you'd expect, Brown's advanced metrics -- including our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric -- look a lot better after the bye.
|Stat||Weeks 1-10||Weeks 12-17|
|Targets Per Game||4.5||6.5|
|Receptions Per Game||2.7||4.2|
|Yards Per Game||44.6||100.8|
|Yards Per Reception||16.52||24.2|
|Reception NEP Per Catch||1.35||2.1|
|Target NEP Per Target||0.23||1.08|
|Touchdowns Per Game||0.3||1|
One of the first things you notice in these numbers is the increase in volume. Brown saw two more targets per game, went for 56 more yards per game, and has almost 8 more yards per reception after the bye.
Overall, Brown ended the season with 1,051 yards and 52 receptions on 84 targets.
Looking at advanced metrics, Brown’s impact on the field is further reflected. Among wideouts who saw at least 50 targets, he ranked, first in Reception NEP per target, second in Reception NEP per reception, and fifth in Target NEP per target. Also, according to PlayerProfiler, he had a top-ranked production premium (52.4%) as well as a third-ranked QBR when targeted (132.5), and he was second in fantasy points per target (2.58).
Brown was electric with the ball in his hands, and when given more volume down the stretch, he was an elite fantasy play. The main concern is his dependence on big plays and the fact Tennessee leaned heavily on Derrick Henry down the stretch in 2019. Will that lead to inconsistencies in 2020?
Tennessee in 2020
The main concern with Brown’s ability to produce elite numbers in fantasy is Mike Vrabel’s scheme. After a career year by Henry, there may be an increase in the Titans' “establish the run” mentality.
In the offseason, Tennessee beefed up the offensive line by selecting Isaiah Wilson in the first round. They were also active on the defensive side by taking Kristian Fulton to replace Logan Ryan and signing some of front-seven help, such as Vic Beasley. These transactions may hint at the Titans' commitment to slowing down games by dominating the trenches, and that could cap Brown’s upside.
Lastly, the success of Brown is going to rely heavily on the ability of Tannehill to remain as efficient as he was in 2019. According to PlayerProfiler, Tannehill led the league in true passer rating (118.2) as well as production premium (54.9%), and was ranked fourth in accuracy rating (7.6). Tannehill thrived in every situation -- leading the league in play-action completion percentage (75.9%), ranking fourth in clean completion percentage (78.7%), and checking in sixth in pressured completion percentage (44.3%).
If these numbers can be replicated, there is a very real chance for Brown to build on his late-season tear. While Tennessee passes the ball less often than other teams do and that means fewer targets for Brown, the efficiency of the Titans' passing game sets Brown up for a productive season.
Our models at numberFire have Brown being undervalued -- remember: he's 41st overall and WR16 -- as we project him to record 69.4 receptions, 1,109.5 yards and 6.1 touchdowns on 109.6 targets.
We rank him as the WR12, a low-end WR1.
If we see a Tennessee offense similar to the one from the end of 2019, there is reason to believe Brown can outproduce his current cost. He is an athletic freak, and he showed as a rookie that he has elite talent. The late-season Brown could be the guy we get all year in 2020.