The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Football Season: A.J. Brown

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Editor’s Note: This profile is part of our annual Path to a Fantasy WR1 Season series. For our methodology and an outline of the process, make sure you read the 2022 Path to WR1 Series Primer.

Nobody doubts that A.J. Brown has the potential to finish as a WR1 in 2022, but there is plenty of trepidation surrounding him in the fantasy football community. According to the average draft position (ADP) in the Ultimate Draft Kit, he’s currently being drafted as the ninth wide receiver off the board early in the third round. Yet he checks in at WR19 in The Ballers consensus wide receiver rankings.

So why is there such a large discrepancy between ADP and the rankings? This series is about identifying the determining factors that need to occur for a wideout to have an elite season. Let’s find out what it would take for Arthur Juan Brown to get there in 2022.

2021 Recap

Given the trajectory of his first two seasons, Brown’s 2021 campaign felt like a massive letdown. Plagued by injuries and stuck in the run-heaviest offense in the NFL, he limped his way to finishing as the WR32 overall on the season while laying just 13 games.. 

But 2021 wasn’t a total bust for Brown. He was the second-highest fantasy scoring receiver over a three-game stretch from Weeks 6-8, trailing only Cooper Kupp over that span. He finished three individual weeks as a top-four fantasy wideout, including the WR1 performance of Week 8, racking up 26.5 fantasy points against the Colts.

Unfortunately for his fantasy managers, he also disappeared for long stretches of the season. He finished outside the top 40 fantasy wideouts five times, even when you remove the games he left early due to injury. If you somehow managed to make it to the fantasy championship in Week 17 with Brown on your roster, he let you down again with a two-catch, 41-yard performance against the Dolphins.

He showed up for the Titans in their lone playoff game, turning five catches into 142 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Cincinnati, but that is little solace for fantasy managers that were by and large let down by him for the majority of the season.

The Path for 2022

After the blockbuster draft-night trade to the Eagles, Brown’s path to a WR1 season won’t go through Tennesee in 2022 (though the Titans will make a trip to Philly in Week 13). Projecting outcomes for a player is always tricky in a new setting. Let’s explore the theoretical path to a WR1 season for Brown in Philly.

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Targets

Brown has never been a target hog, that isn’t his game. His career-high target count in a season is just 106, and he’s only seen double-digit targets five times in his 49 career games. However, as Andy reminds us in the UDK video profile on Brown, “Efficiency has been the name of his game.” Brown was the WR15 on just 84 targets as a rookie in 2019 and WR11 in 2020 on 106.

Brown put up those efficient fantasy performances in one of the run-heaviest offenses in the NFL. The Titans attempted the most rush attempts in the NFL last season, but it doesn’t appear to be much different in Philadelphia, who had just one fewer team rush attempt in 2021. In fact, the Eagles attempted just 494 team pass attempts last season, the fewest in the league.

But maybe it won’t be that way in 2022. The Eagles came out of the gate passing the ball at a much higher rate last year. In fact, as highlighted in Brown’s outlook on his profile page, they ranked fifth in neutral situation pass rate through the first seven weeks of the season. That kind of pass rate would lead to a significant increase in targets in the Philly offense.

When it comes to the target share in Philly, all signs point to Brown leading the way. He saw his target share grow year-over-year with the Titans, peaking at a 27% target share in 2021. With the Eagles backing up the Brinks truck and signing him to a $100 million contract extension, it isn’t hard to project a similar target share with his new team.

If the Eagles increase their pass attempts by just 10% this season, that would put them at 544 on the season. If Brown is targeted on 25% of those attempts, he would rack up 136 targets. Given what we’ve seen from Brown over his first three seasons, that would be more than enough for him to finish as a WR1.

Receptions

Over his first three NFL seasons, Brown has hauled in 62.7% of the passes thrown his way. That checks in as the 36th best for wideouts with at least 200 targets combined over the last three seasons. For context, that‘s roughly the same as Dionte Johnson (62.7%), Terry McLaurin (62.2%), and Mike Evans (61.9%). If we use the projected 136 targets from above and his career average catch rate of 62.7%, Brown would come down with 85 catches in 2022.

However, 163 of Brown’s 185 career catches have come from Ryan Tannehill, a quarterback that has averaged a 67.3% completion rate over the past three seasons while playing with Brown. Now he’ll be catching balls from Jalen Hurts, whose accuracy has been a question over his short career. His 61.3% completion rate in 2021 ranked 28th among quarterbacks, but it was a step in the right direction after his awful 52% rate in 2020. He will need to continue to improve his passing to increase the odds of Brown reaching fantasy WR1 status. 

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Yards

Brown is a big-play threat every time the ball heads his way. He’s averaged an impressive 2.59 yards/route run over his three years in the league, including a career-high 2.72 last season. That was good enough for fifth-best in 2021, and it put him in good company.

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Player Yards/Route Run* Games Played Fantasy Finish
Cooper Kupp 3.12 17 WR1
Deebo Samuel 2.93 16 WR2
Davante Adams 2.81 16 WR3
Antonio Brown 2.79 7 WR58
A.J. Brown 2.72 13 WR32
Deonte Harty 2.69 13 WR61
Justin Jefferson 2.59 17 WR4
Ja’Marr Chase 2.44 17 WR5
Tyler Lockett 2.35 16 WR13
Tee Higgins 2.18 14 WR22

His career average of 16.2 yards/reception is the third-highest among wideouts with at least 100 receptions since he entered the league in 2019, trailing only Kenny Golladay (16.8) and Mike Williams (16.8). There’s a good chance that number dips a bit if his volume increases, but we should still expect Brown to have one of the higher yards/rec in the league. Let’s continue the theoretical season using the 85 receptions we calculated above and tick him down to 14.5 yards/rec, putting him at 1,233 yards on the season.

Touchdowns

Touchdowns are the stat that will make or break a fantasy season. Brown scored a career-high 11 touchdowns in 2020, the lone WR1 season of his career, but just five last season. It’s tough to project how many he’ll haul in from Jalen Hurts in 2022, but let’s see just how many it will take.

Continuing down our theoretical path from above, Brown’s hypothetical stat line of 85 catches for 1,233 yards would net him 165.8 fantasy points before considering touchdowns. Over the past three seasons, the average cutoff for a WR1 season has been 206.6 fantasy points. If Brown musters six receiving touchdowns next season, he would fall just short of that cutoff at 201.8 fantasy points. On the other hand, if he finds the end zone ten times, that would boost him up to 225.8 fantasy points, well into the average WR1 range.

Conclusion

Following the path laid out above, it’s absolutely possible for Brown to finish as a WR1 in 2022. Whether or not he makes it will depend on the following determining factors.

  • He has to stay healthy.
  • The Eagles have to pass at a higher rate than they did in 2021.
  • Jalen Hurts has to continue improving as a passer.
  • He has to score 7+ touchdowns.

If those all come to fruition, the path to a WR1 season will be clear for A.J. Brown in 2022.

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