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Player Spotlight: John Brown

A detailed look at John Brown's fantasy prospects for 2016

As a Player

Brown was billed out of small Pittsburgh State as a pure speedster, productive in school but likely to be wedged partway into an NFL offense as a deep threat. But in Arizona, Bruce Arians has utilized him in a similar fashion to two other small yet mismatch-creating wideouts in previous coaching stops – Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton.

Arians appreciates the ability to use instinct and supreme athleticism to find openings downfield, and when he lands a speed demon who fits the bill, he uses him liberally. Far from a one-trick pony, Brown has drawn 204 targets through his first two seasons (31 games). In fact, he’s accounted for 19.5% of Carson Palmer’s throws as an early pro – a rate that would produce 115-120 targets over a full, typical season. That’s a solid market share at this point in Brown’s career, one that should only grow as Larry Fitzgerald ages. And judging by his studly 64% catch rate from last year, Brown is up to the task.

Generally, what we want to see in a small receiver are top-notch speed and athleticism, the rare kinds that provide true mismatches in lieu of a towering frame. And Brown absolutely aced the 2014 combine:

Ht

Wt

40-yd

Vert

Broad

3-cone

AEI

5'10"

179

4.34

36.5

117

6.91

92.74

That’s an ungodly amount of speed, even for a small receiver, and Brown has put it to great use as a pro. But what’s truly exciting about Brown is his all-around utility. Though he’s small, he’s not really comparable to the grip-it-and-rip-it likes of DeSean Jackson or Travis Benjamin – deep ball threats first and foremost. Guys like that can certainly be valuable, but they’re generally limited and often just sporadic fantasy producers. Brown, on the other hand, has been woven intricately into the Cardinals’ overall gameplan in a T.Y. Hilton sort of way; he looks to have a few 130-target seasons in his future. Through two seasons, he’s seen a balanced aDOT (average depth of target) of 5.9 yards that points to a receiver capable of getting downfield plenty, but used on all levels of the field. Clearly, while the team seems ready to hold Michael Floyd to more of a downfield role, they’ve got more expansive plans for Brown.

Brown indeed experienced a very nice breakout in 2015, but it could have been even sweeter. Some of his biggest contributions to the Cardinals were near-misses on the stat sheet. He drew six pass interference/holding penalties, the same number as Odell Beckham, Jr. and A.J. Green combined, that brought the team an additional 136 yards. Brown produced well, but it’s tantalizing to wonder how much sexier those numbers could have been – and could be going forward.

Opportunity Knocks

First, a quick look at how the Cardinals have divvied up their targets to wide receivers over the last two years (including playoff games):

 

2014

2015

L. Fitzgerald

111

132

37.2%

39.2%

Jo. Brown

98

110

32.9%

32.6%

M. Floyd

89

95

29.9%

28.2%

We can see that it was Floyd, not Brown, who took most of the damage of Fitzgerald’s resurgent 2015. With two years under his belt and both spent as the preferred option over Floyd, Brown looks dialed in as Carson Palmer’s second option. Should that trend continue and Fitzgerald’s role decrease a bit at 33, we can expect Brown to claim a solid 1/3 of the wideouts’ targets in 2016. And if Palmer stays upright and effective, the road will be cleared for a run at 80 receptions. Now consider Brown’s awesome per-catch efficiency (and his upside for more), and you’d be looking at the yardage and touchdown totals to produce a solid fantasy WR2.

As with most small wideouts, however, Brown will likely need those catches and yards to threaten WR2 status. He’s got a solid, not great, touchdown profile – he’s a threat to score on any downfield throw, but his size hurts near the goal line (just eight targets from inside the 10 through two seasons). That makes for a volatile touchdown projection; Brown could seemingly land anywhere from six to 10 scores, which muddies his fantasy value greatly. Just bear in mind that his floor as an all-around contributor is higher than that of most smallish speedsters.

Positives

- In the discussion amongst the NFL's most explosive downfield threats, and it shows - 23 of his 124 career receptions have gone for 20+ yards, a nearly identical rate to that of Odell Beckham, Jr.

- Has typically garnered a heftier share of the Cardinals passing game than Michael Floyd, with a target rate and efficiency markers that rose noticeably in 2015

- Utilized all over the field and not handcuffed in any way by situation or gameplan

Negatives

- Carries a volume outlook that's heavier than most think, but a little murky in terms of ceiling (how many targets can he realistically see?) and floor (one of three talented options, and his QB is relatively injury-prone)

- A decent red zone threat, but down the pecking order near the goal line; he'd likely need a big-play barrage to threaten 10 touchdowns

- Older (26) and nearer his physical peak than your typical third-year player

Final Thoughts

In 2014, it was easy to shuffle Brown into the class of ultra-fast, ultra-raw wideouts who can blaze and do little else. But Brown has thrived under Bruce Arians and run with the extended opportunity he’s been given. A broadly used mismatch creator, he’s an ascending star at the position, one whose 2015 was good-not-great on the stat sheet but strong and occasionally dominant on the field. Expect Brown’s role to grow in Year Three as the No. 2” option to aging Larry Fitzgerald. If we can assume Carson Palmer’s health and effectiveness, there’s no reason to project anything but a steeply up-pointing arrow for 2016 and beyond.

Projections

Staff Member

Gm

Rec

RecYd

TD

Justin Howe

16

70

1033

7

David Dodds

16

58

911

7

Jason Wood

16

55

825

5

Bob Henry

16

60

910

6

Other Viewpoints

The venerable Mike Braude points out how similar Brown’s career start is shaping up to that of T.Y. Hilton:

Derek Lofland of FFManiax also sees Brown amongst the cream of the WR3 (or better) crop:

“Brown had only 65 receptions, but also had 1,003 yards and seven receiving touchdowns. His big-play ability makes him a WR3 with upside.”

But our own Jason Wood isn’t very optimistic:

“Brown is part of a three-headed hydra in Arizona. For my money, he’s the least compelling of the trio and the one I would let fall into someone else’s hands.”