Fantasy Court: The Case Against A.J. Brown in 2021

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This article is part of the annual Fantasy Court series. Make sure to check out Nate Henry’s Fantasy Court: The Case For A.J. Brown to read the other side of the argument.

Opening Statement

My opening statement will start by saying my case against A.J. Brown is not because of his talent. Brown is an absolute stud wide receiver who has dominated his first two years in the league, finishing as the WR11 in 2020 and WR15 in 2019 in half-point PPR. My case has more to do with other factors that may hinder Brown and keep him from reaching his ceiling in 2021 than anything talent-related. Below you will find my reasons for my case against Mr. Arthur Juan Brown.

The Titans Offense

The Tennessee Titans are a notoriously run-first team. Mike Vrabel took over as the team’s head coach in 2018, resulting in three straight seasons in the bottom-3 in team passing attempts. The Titans have attempted more passes each season under Vrabel. They had 437 attempts in 2018, 448 in 2019, and 485 in 2020. While it is possible that the trend continues and they throw more in 2021, this is still a team that will rely vastly on the run with Derrick Henry with the potential to have a 4th straight season in the bottom-3 in team passing attempts.

Addition of Julio Jones

The Titans acquired Julio Jones from the Atlanta Falcons to bolster their offense, adding another superstar wide receiver to a team that doesn’t throw the ball all that much. Jones might be a little older, now aged 32 years old, but he still seems to have a lot left in the tank. His 2020 season was derailed by injuries, specifically due to a lingering hamstring issue.

There were reports that Julio Jones was dealing with a hamstring injury before the Cowboys game in Week 2 where he tweaked it. The hamstring injury would linger all year and cause Jones to miss seven games and play two games with very low snap percentages. Sleeper has Jones’ snap percentage at 21% in Week 4 and 36% in week 11.

Julio Jones finished 14th among all wide receivers in points per game in 2020. If you take away the 2 games where he barely saw the field, he would have averaged 15.8 points in those seven games played. In that scenario, he would have tied for 4th in points per game with his teammate, Calvin Ridley.

I point all this out to prove that if healthy, Julio Jones can still be an elite wide receiver in 2021 and limit A.J. Brown‘s ceiling. Brown is on his way to being elite, but Jones has been there consistently (five consecutive top-6 finishes before 2020). It’s entirely possible that a healthy Julio Jones comes in and takes command of the Titans’ offense as the number 1 option. In 2020, Corey Davis was almost on par with Brown in receiving stats.

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Player Games Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns Fantasy Points
A.J. Brown 14 106 70 1,075 11 212.5 (WR11)
Corey Davis 14 92 65 984 5 158.9 (WR31)

Knowing that, is it crazy to think that a future hall of fame wide receiver can come in and outproduce A.J. Brown or keep him from finishing as a top-12 or even top-15 receiver? Brown has relied on efficiency in his 2 years in the NFL. In 2020, he was 36th in targets. For Brown to finish in or near the top-12 wide receivers, he may not have room for the efficiency to go down.

Julio Jones seems healthy now and sounds motivated and determined to perform at a high level. In an article by ProFootballTalk, Julio Jones said that he thinks he came back too early from the injury. Jones also said, “for those questioning my health, stay tuned.”

Getty Images / Icon Sportswire

Wide Receiver Duos with a Top-20 Finish

Since 2015, we see that there are usually 2-3 pairs of wide receivers to finish inside the top-20 each year. This chart below that shows which receivers have finished in the top-20 each year since 2015.

Year Player 1 Fantasy Finish Player 2 Fantasy Finish Team Passing Attempts
2020 Justin Jefferson WR6 Adam Thielen WR8 516 (27th)
2020 DK Metcalf WR7 Tyler Lockett WR9 563 (17th)
2020 JuJu Smith-Schuster WR18 Chase Claypool WR19 656 (1st)
2020 Amari Cooper WR16 CeeDee Lamb WR20 639 (2nd)
2019 Chris Godwin WR2 Mike Evans WR12 630 (4th)
2019 Cooper Kupp WR4 Robert Woods WR17 632 (3rd)
2018 Antonio Brown WR4 JuJu Smith-Schuster WR9 689 (1st)
2018 Julio Jones WR5 Calvin Ridley WR20 617 (5th)
2018 Adam Thielen WR7 Stefon Diggs WR11 606 (6th)
2018 Robert Woods WR10 Brandin Cooks WR13 568 (14th)
2017 Marvin Jones WR9 Golden Tate WR15 570 (10th)
2017 Adam Thielen WR10 Stefon Diggs WR19 527 (21st)
2016 Jordy Nelson WR1 Davante Adams WR8 620 (5th)
2016 Michael Thomas WR7 Brandin Cooks WR9 674 (2nd)
2016 Michael Crabtree WR11 Amari Cooper WR13 596 (10th)
2015 Brandon Marshall WR3 Eric Decker WR13 604 (15th)
2015 Allen Robinson WR6 Allen Hurns WR16 607 (12th)
2015 Demaryius Thomas WR11 Emmanuel Sanders WR19 606 (13th)

Looking at the chart, you see that there are 18 wide receiver duos who each finished in the top-20, some with multiple entries, but if we look at the duos whose teams were in the bottom half of the league in passing attempts, you will get three duos (16.7%). Two of those duos to be in the bottom half of team passing attempts to finish in the top-20 were from last season (2020).

Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen finished not only in the top-20 but also in the top-12 with another pair of teammates, D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. These two duos, specifically Jefferson and Thielen, prove that it is undoubtedly possible for lower volume passing teams to have two top-12 fantasy wide receivers. However, it’s not a great bet for A.J. Brown and Julio Jones if you play the odds with a team that has finished in the bottom-3 in passing attempts in all three years under Mike Vrabel.

A.J. Browns Current ADP

As of writing this article, A.J. Browns ADP is 2.10 as the WR6 off the board, per the Ultimate Draft Kit. His current ADP is my biggest hesitation with drafting A.J. Brown. Brown is going ahead of players like Calvin Ridley, Najee Harris, and Justin Jefferson, to name a few. He’s also going ahead of some possible elite tight ends, such as George Kittle and Darren Waller, who offer a positional advantage.

If you’re drafting Brown as the WR6, you are likely taking him at his absolute ceiling. Drafting a wide receiver at his ceiling with the risk that he may not even finish as a top-12 wide receiver can hurt your fantasy team. Especially if runningbacks are flying off the board and you pass on one to take Brown.

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Closing Statement

In closing, I hope that before drafting A.J. Brown this year, you consider the risks involved and understand that it has nothing to do with his talent. I love A.J. Brown as a player and will continue rooting for him to be successful; however, I can’t ignore where he is currently going in drafts with his situation’s risks. If the Titans still finish at the bottom of team passing attempts and Julio Jones takes over as the team’s number 1 option, it will be interesting to see how that impacts Brown’s fantasy production.

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