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Will Ole Miss get more production from A.J. Brown in big games?

The star wideout piled up stats last season, but most of them came against inferior competition.

Mississippi v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I was recently talking with a friend who mentioned an NFL Draft podcast that seemingly made an inflammatory point: A.J. Brown may not be as good as everyone thinks he is. I was immediately taken aback—I, like all of you, love the mayor of Starkville and recognize how much of a beast he is. After listening to their reasoning though, I must say I think it’s sound. Sure, I might disagree, but I can see where they’re coming from.

Point 1: Brown lacks explosiveness and doesn’t do anything well enough to make up for it

I would argue that Metcalf is clearly the number one guy at Ole Miss. A.J. Brown is closer to DaMarkus Lodge than he is to D.K. from an NFL draft standpoint. I think he does things well… I saw a smooth player, but I didn’t see a super explosive player.

Point 2: Brown didn’t produce against top competition

They played terrible teams last year, and A.J. Brown at them up, and good for him for beating his competition. But when I watch those games and we talk about it from an NFL Draft perspective, if he’s catching the ball and getting yards after the catch on these guys, let me tell you, these guys aren’t playing in the league…

Last year, A.J. Brown had 75 catches, 1,252 yards and 11 TDs. Of that, 38 catches, 748 yards, and eight TDs came against South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin, Louisiana and Vanderbilt.

Before you get too irate, let me once again encourage you to listen to the podcast. Both guys think he’s quite good. They’re just arguing that he’s not a first-rounder.

Let me refute the first assertion that Brown doesn’t do any one thing really, really well. I understand he’s not a burner or someone who can go up and fight hard for contested balls, but his hands are exceptional. His catch rate was nearly 80 percent last year!

Take it from Red Cup’s Will Gates:

There were just 28 receivers who caught 75 percent or more of their passes on 50 or more targets in 2017. Just making that cut would be impressive, but Brown’s 16.7 yards per catch leads the pack (the average for this group is just 11).

Also, he can break and avoid tackles magnificently, especially when considering his size. He’s a tough guy to bring down, which makes his hands over the middle even more deadly. Here’s Will again.

Brown totaled 643 yards after the catch last year, which accounted for more than half of his total receiving yards. Also worth mentioning is that he racked up 21 missed tackles, which is a total that shouldn’t be next to a receiver’s name.

The second point, however, is definitely valid. Brown has not produced enough against great teams. The example they give about Alabama is fraught with errors, (Brown only played as a decoy in that game due to a knee injury that kept him out against Cal), but he did have his struggles in key games.

I’ve grouped the teams he faced into a “Bad 5” (South Alabama, UT-Martin, Vandy, Kentucky, and Louisiana) and a “Good 5” (Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, A&M, State), though I recognize there’s room for debate within those categories. The first number here is against those “bad” teams while the second is against the “good.”

Brown’s 2017 stats by competition level

Receptions % of total rec. Yards % of total yards TDs % of total TDs
Receptions % of total rec. Yards % of total yards TDs % of total TDs
45 61% 913 68% 9 82%
29 39% 433 32% 2 18%

The numbers are startling. It’s clear that nearly all of Brown’s production came against bad teams. Brown did have had good games against Auburn (10 catches for 109 yards) and State (6 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown), but his games against LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M produced a combined 13 catches for 157 yards and a lone touchdown. That’s an average of just four catches and 52 yards per game.

Ole Miss won’t be able to compete with strong teams if it has production like that from Brown in 2018. The good news is that Brown’s story isn’t over. He has one season to show Ole Miss fans, and more importantly NFL scouts, that he’s not just a great player against bad teams. He has a great chance to do it... but we can’t pretend he already has.