A.J. Brown is already better than any other NFL receiver at something.
It didn’t take long before Tennessee Titans fans knew that A.J. Brown was going to be a star, but I don’t even think optimistic fans would have hoped for his 2019 season.
Not only did A.J. Brown set historic efficiency numbers that put him alongside Hall of Famers, but he did it in a way that is very easy to reproduce. This is no slander to Brown’s former teammate D.K. Metcalf, but lining up in the slots and running slot fades when you are bigger and faster than the cornerbacks guarding you is great, but it is also hard to set up.
Is Metcalf going to run other routes from the slot to set that route up? What if a boundary CB just follows him inside knowing that route is coming? Can Metcalf block well enough to be considered a WR/TE hybrid or will that alignment automatically alert the defense to know that a pass is coming?
The point is, according to Next Gen Stats and NFL.com’s Nick Shook, A.J. Brown has a route that he runs better than anyone in the NFL and you will never see it coming. That route is the “In” route, where being able to explode out of your break and win after the catch are key.
Why is A.J. Brown the best at it, Shook says:
Of his 301 total yards on in routes, 181 were gained after the catch. The next-closest players in that category were the Rams’ Cooper Kupp (99) and the Browns’ Jarvis Landry (96). Brown’s two touchdowns on in routes also tied for the most in the NFL, and while his catch rate above expectation wasn’t the best (+12.8%, ranking 11th among receivers who were targeted at least five times on in routes), his league-leading yards per reception on such routes (27.4) cements his status as the top player in this category.
Hidden benefit of Derrick Henry
A.J. Brown is outstanding, but some of this credit should go to Derrick Henry and the run game.
Being able to sell the route as an attempt to set up a block for your first few steps, and then making a hard cut inside is much easier when the cornerback is terrified of allowing Derrick Henry to build up speed, and when the inside linebacker is sucked up into the play action trying to avoid being put on the Titans highlight reel.
This offense is the perfect fit for A.J. Brown because hesitation is a killer for defensive backs and if you let the league’s best RAC receiver get a free release and don’t have help inside, you better be prepared for a long day.