Regression would be fine for A.J. Brown as long as Titans feed him.
Tennessee Titans WR A.J. Brown should have been the offensive rookie of the year in 2019, and I am not still bitter about it, thank you for asking.
How good was Brown? Well, if you had all day I could try to get through the major points, but let’s look at where Brown was truly excellent and that was in his yards after the catch.
Titans fans probably remember that Brown was prolific in yards after the catch this season and that he led all rookies and all receivers regardless of experience, in YAC per reception. But, how do fans know that he didn’t just make the most of his opportunities in 2019?
You might be wondering if there is a way to take the workload he was given, and then compare it across other players in the league to see just how good his YAC stats really were. Well, enter Rotoworld and their “expected YAC” stat.
Titans fans will be happy to know that only Austin Ekeler ended the season ahead of Brown in terms of unexpected YAC.
Why is that important?
YAC is a great stat, but you have to remember that catching a screen and running it in for a 7-yard touchdown, counts just as much as catching a dump-off on 3rd and 20 that goes for seven yards and a punt.
It isn’t the end all be all, and it is definitely more impressive when a receiver pops up on this list because receivers aren’t usually funnels for check-downs and dump-offs like tight ends and running backs are. They also don’t get screen passes as often, which is another way that this stat gets inflated by running backs.
Long story short, being second on this list is very impressive.
So, when Rotoworld posted their article on YAC today and mentioned A.J. Brown as a regression candidate, you shouldn’t take that as a slight to Brown. Here is the explanation they gave for predicting some regression:
"Most of the players on this top-10 list are running backs and tight ends, but A.J. Brown checks in as the second-biggest negative regression candidate after absolutely shredding defenses as a rookie. Brown is obviously very explosive and strong, so he should be an above-average player after the catch, but not even Tyreek Hill can sustain the YAC numbers Brown put up last season (465 yards after the catch). Brown’s league-leading yards per target (12.5) should regress to more normal levels with regression coming."
Brown had a freak season in 2019 so it makes sense to expect that his YAC average and his yards per target average will drop. However, the reason why those numbers should drop isn’t because he can’t be as dynamic as he was last year.
The reason is that should change is because there is no way that 62 players in the NFL should have more catches than A.J. Brown in 2020.
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Tennessee has to make A.J. Brown the top priority in this offense when the ball is out of Derrick Henry‘s hands. Last year the average team’s reception leader had 83 catches compared to Brown’s 52.
That means if the league just feeds Brown at a rate that matches up with the league average, using last year’s numbers he would be set to have a 1,677 receiving yard season.
So, let’s factor in a regression that drops him to 15 yards per reception which is just 74% of what he had as a rookie. That would still give him 240 more yards than he had last year, and it would likely put his numbers close to most players fighting for Pro Bowl spots in the AFC.
If you want to assume Brown will regress in YAC, that is fine because he just had one of the best seasons by a WR in recent history. However, don’t forget to also mention that he is due for positive regression in terms of targets and receptions and that he is still one of the most dominant WRs in the NFL who gets to attack defenses focusing on Derrick Henry.