Is John Brown on the Verge of a Breakout for the Arizona Cardinals?
Did you know that John Brown lived with Carson Palmer this past offseason? And that he's a perfect fit for Bruce Arians' offense because he's the same size as T.Y. Hilton? Oh, have you also heard that he's going to receive a huge increase in targets because Larry Fitzgerald is old?
These arguments are what many in the fantasy sports industry would refer to as examples of "narrative street" -- an argument based upon points that have no statistical basis. Now some may certainly have a degree of merit -- just ask the Houston Texans and Andre Johnson about revenge narratives -- however, most bear little to no weight on a player's potential productivity.
Stories like these arise every offseason and generally sprout at least one or two fantasy darlings that will be overdrafted based upon potential.
Last year we had Cordarrelle Patterson, another exciting wide receiver primed for a breakout because we were told to believe that the featured receiver in Norv Turner's vaunted offense has to be great. As we learned very early last year, Patterson is not the second coming of Josh Gordon.
Despite being associated with the aforementioned Patterson, Brown's praise was far more deserved. He has the skillset to succeed in this league and is a member of the number one offense in the NFL, per our metrics.
Brown has posted solid, if not spectacular numbers thus far this season. According to FantasyData.com, Brown ranks 24th among wide receivers in fantasy points scored this season. What he has lacked are the big plays he became known for last season. However, if a few things go his way over the remainder of the year, that should change in short order.
The Cardinals Have Been Too Dominant
Oddly enough, the reason for Brown's mediocre start to the season is the stellar play of his own team thus far this season. The Cardinals sit atop our power rankings and have looked every bit the title contender they are. An opportunistic defense and special teams unit have allowed the offense to operate with game scripts that are not ideal for Brown.
Largely due to the great play of the defense and special teams, the Cardinals have run a mere 59 plays per game this season, currently 30th in the league.
Leading the league with four first half touchdown returns, these game changing plays have occurred so early that they have allowed the Cardinals to run the ball at a greater rate than planned. In addition, this impressive defensive/special teams unit has given the Cardinals the fifth best average starting field position, beginning each drive just past the 31 yard line.
While the great starting field position hinders the total plays per game this offense is running, it is not overly concerning, as long-term it will lead to additional scoring opportunities for Brown and the offense as a whole.
Arizona's early return touchdowns have certainly handicapped his chances at delivering the stat lines he is capable of though. Not only are they taking away valuable possessions from this electric offensive unit, but also they are directly taking away opportunities from Brown. Early leads for a team with a very effective defense are apt to lead to a more conservative game script.
The Cardinals have outscored their opponents 110 to 54 over the first half of their games this season. It is then not surprising to see that Brown has accumulated the majority of his production in the first half of games.
The prime benefactor of these game scripts appears to have been Fitzgerald. Palmer has looked his way in the second halves of games, with his more conservative route tree offering this offense the opportunity to put together drives and limit mistakes.
With more competitive game scripts, we should see regression take place and a swing back in Brown's favor a bit. In the Cardinals' only loss this season, Brown tied for the team lead in both targets and catches.
What Can Brown Do for You?
Brown's on-field performance this year has been one of the key reasons for this team's success. With a Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) total of 28.74, Brown ranks 24th among all receivers, this despite lacking many long gains and having scored minimal touchdowns on the season, which speaks to Brown's consistency.
For those new to numberFire, NEP is our signature metric. It allows us to help quantify the amount of points a player contributes to his team compared to how he would be expected to perform.
Among 63 receivers with at least 20 targets, Brown's catch rate (74.19%) ranks ninth. His Reception NEP per target (0.93) ranks eighth.
Brown has also contributed to the success of others on his team, having garnered a league leading three pass interference flags in the red zone, all of which were converted into touchdowns by his teammates.
He has been a very effective real-life player, and his strong performance on the field will continue to earn Palmer's trust, of which the dividends should soon pay off for fantasy owners.
The Cardinals' next three opponents -- Pittsburgh (16th), Baltimore (13th), and Cleveland (23rd) -- all boast very middling pass defenses, according to our Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play metric, that should be exploitable matchups for Brown.
Look for Brown to start his breakout this week in Pittsburgh. Two of the team's safeties were forced out of Week 5's game, and their status is currently up in the air.
With the Cardinals on the road and facing Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers should be able to keep themselves within shouting distance to help ensure the Cardinals can't take their foot of the pedal.
Also, expect Arians' to take advantage of this matchup. (Remember that "revenge narrative" argument? Arians has a bit of that going on himself.)
With all of the attention focused on Fitzgerald this season, many owners in season long formats have begun to sleep on Brown. It may be the perfect time to reach out to the Brown owner and feel them out.
He possesses a decent floor (at least 3 catches and 40 yards receiving in every game this season) and the type of untapped game-breaking potential that can change your season. This may be your last chance to acquire him for such a reduced price this season.
For everyone's sake, let's hope this breakout happens soon. Because more John Brown touchdowns, mean more John Brown touchdown dances. And I think everyone can agree, that's a good thing for all of us.