Ever since Ryan Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback of the Tennessee Titans during a Week 6 contest with the Denver Broncos, the team’s offense has been on fire. Per ESPN’s Mike Clay, the Titans have averaged 3.75 offensive touchdowns per game during this time period, which is an absolutely elite number. While the whole team has benefited from this offensive bonanza, no player looks more dominant at this very moment than rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown.
Drafted in the second round with the 51st overall selection of the 2019 NFL Draft, Brown was the fourth wideout off the board, but his landing in Tennessee wasn’t met with a great deal of initial enthusiasm. After all, incumbent quarterback Marcus Mariota had struggled to stay healthy over the first four years of his career, and the franchise already had a presumptive top receiver in Corey Davis.
The prevailing thought was that the Titans’ rather uninspiring offense wasn’t the best place for the highly talented Brown to showcase his unique talents. As we inch closer to the end of the 2019 season, it’s become apparent how incorrect that line of reasoning truly was.
A.J. Brown Is a Legitimate Number One Wideout for the Tennessee Titans
Brown burst out of the gate early, snaring three of four targets for 100 receiving yards in his very first NFL contest, but his production slowed considerably after that. Save for a three-catch, 94-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 4, Brown struggled to get into a rhythm, failing to surpass 30 receiving yards in six of his next nine contests.
While he did have a couple of bright spots during two of Tannehill’s first three starts (producing 64 yards and 81 yards in Weeks 7 and 9, respectively), Brown was largely a non-factor in the offense, playing a limited number of snaps and seeing very few targets.
Then, a funny (and wonderful) thing happened. The Titans entered their Week 11 bye and Brown emerged from it a completely new player. In fact, the Ole Miss standout has been on an absolute tear since then, securing 20 of 29 targets for an insane 447 receiving yards and four touchdowns over his last four contests. During this same span, he’s cleared 100 receiving yards three times and is averaging a robust 22.35 yards per reception.
As he’s continued to make big plays, his coaches and quarterback have placed more trust in him and he’s seen his workload increase in a big way. In fact, the rookie has played 84 percent or more of the team’s offensive snaps in four of his last five games, after failing to surpass a 69 percent snap share over his first nine appearances. Furthermore, the 13 targets he received in Week 14 represented a career high by a country mile, as he’d never seen more than eight looks in any prior showing.
Brown’s reception statistics are starting to look incredibly impressive as well. With 47 catches on the season, he ranks fourth among all rookies, and his seven receiving touchdowns are tied for second in that group. Furthermore, his 893 receiving yards are tops among all first-year players.
The 22-year-old has also averaged over 30 yards per reception in four different games in 2019, and is averaging a robust 19.0 yards a catch on the season. That’s the second best average in the entire league among qualifiers. Perhaps most impressive is his 401 yards after the catch, which ranks fifth among receivers and is shocking when you consider that he’s accomplished this on only 47 grabs. Incredible.
A Long Wait
So we’ve definitely spent a lot of time going over Brown’s impressive statistics, but let’s talk a little bit about what they mean to the franchise. And the answer to that is, a whole lot. To be frank, the Titans have been searching for a number one receiver since Derrick Mason left town after the conclusion of the 2004 NFL season.
Mason recorded four straight 1,000-yard seasons for Tennessee prior to signing with the Baltimore Ravens in March 2005. Drew Bennett accomplished the feat alongside Mason in 2004 but since then, the Titans have only seen two wideouts produce 1,000 yard receiving seasons. Nate Washington accomplished the feat in 2011 and Kendall Wright hit the mark in 2013. And that’s it.
Delanie Walker pulled it off in 2015, but he’s a tight end. Brown is only 107 yards shy of reaching 1,000 yards in his rookie campaign, while accomplishing something that no Titans receiver has accomplished in six years. Amazing.
There’s no question that Brown is the real deal. Through 14 NFL contests (and nine starts), he’s passed the eye test and satisfied all of the analytics. Watching him snag eight receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown against the Houston Texans last last weekend, he popped off the screen in the same way all dominant receivers do. There’s little doubt that the potential is there for a truly special NFL career.
The 8-6 Titans remain firmly in the mix for a playoff appearance. Also at 8-6, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a tiebreaker over them for the final Wild Card slot, but a lot can change over the final two weeks. More importantly, the Titans aren’t out of the running for an AFC South divisional title either, as they will do battle with the rival Texans (9-5) once again in Week 17.
Admittedly, the road to the playoffs won’t be easy as a showdown with the New Orleans Saints this weekend could prove to be make-or-break for the franchise’s post-season hopes. Still, with a dynamic playmaker like Brown in the mix, Titans fans should feel confident about the future, both long-term and immediate.
When the games have mattered most, A.J. Brown has played his best. That’s all you can ask of a top-notch wide receiver and it’s certainly more than one could reasonably expect of a first-year player. But Brown is no typical rookie. Look for him to close out the 2019 season strong as he cloncludes the first chapter of a great career. Whether the Titans advance to the post-season or not, with Brown in the mix, January football could become a regular occurrence in the Music City.