The John Brown Hype Train is leaving the station. ALL ABOARD!
While a big receiver fetish is now pervasive in fantasy football, some smaller receivers like Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown, and T.Y. Hilton have managed to perform at the same level as their larger counterparts. While bigger receivers can win through size alone, smaller receivers can win with speed and agility as the above receivers have consistently shown. This year offers an opportunity for another small receiver to join this group with a breakout of his own: John Brown. Like all receivers before their breakout seasons, Brown is currently undervalued in drafts. The speedster’s production and athleticism suggest that 2015 could be a big year for this little man.
Bruce Arians and Smallish Receivers
John Brown‘s head coach Bruce Arians has a history of coaching players like Brown, and turning them into successful players in the NFL under his guidance. During his tenure with the Steelers, Arians coached both Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. In 2010, Wallace had his breakout year as primarily a deep threat, and in 2011 he followed it up with a similar year while Brown had his initial breakout year before becoming the best receiver in football. In 2010, Wallace posted a line of 60 catches for 1257 yards with 10 touchdowns. He followed it up with 72 catches for 1193 yards with 8 touchdowns while Brown posted a stat line of 69 catches for 1108 yards with 2 touchdowns. Neither of Arians’ former pupils boasted John Brown’s 42.4-percent (81st-percentile) College Dominator Rating. Antonio Brown also lacks the upcoming Brown’s athleticism.Bruce Arians also coached T.Y. Hilton, John Brown‘s closest comparison. While Hilton started only one game under Arians, his seasonal total was 50 catches for 861 yards and 7 touchdowns. Since then, he has broken out with an 82-catch season that produced 1,345 yards and 7 touchdowns. While Hilton’s 41.9-percent College Dominator Rating and 40-Yard Dash Time were on par, John Brown is the superior athlete. If you believe that Arians’ long history of squeezing success out of small-receiver prospects is more than coincidence, then you’re probably already excited for John Brown in 2015. Even if Arians has nothing to do with the productivity of the receivers who’ve played for him, Brown looks quite a bit like the successful small receivers who came before him nonetheless.
Carson Palmer: Sometimes Healthy, Always Underrated
While Carson Palmer may not be a top-5 quarterback, he is more than capable of supporting top performances by his receivers. Although Palmer profiles similarly to Philip Rivers athletically, his on-field performance is strikingly similar to Ben Roethlisberger‘s. While Palmer only was healthy for 6 games, his passing stats had him in line to perform as well as Roethlisberger over a 16 game pace. In 2010 and 2011, Roethlisberger showed the ability to support Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown while being coached by Bruce Arians, and now Palmer has the opportunity to do the same with John Brown.
While Ben Roethlisberger threw a league-leading 73 deep balls last year, Carson Palmer was on pace to throw 77, which plays strongly to John Brown‘s strength. Additionally Palmer was averaging 37.5 pass attempts per game while Roethlisberger was throwing 38.2 times per game (fourth-most in 2014). If the Cardinals are perceived as being reliant on their running attack, this misconception is born of Palmer’s missed games. During games in which Palmer plays, the Cardinals are top-10 in passing attempts, and Palmer himself is top-10 in terms of passer efficiency.
Larry Fitzgerald: The Perfect Complement
Although Larry Fitzgerald is older and no longer the top-5 wide receiver he once was, he now provides the perfect complementary underneath receiver piece to John Brown‘s stretch-x receiver. Despite no longer playing the role of true “target hog,” Fitzgerald still commands enough respect from opposing secondaries that Brown will benefit from his presence on the field. Larry Fitzgerald’s rate decline mirrors Brown’s rate of ascent. The timing is aligned. A perfect script for John Brown’s imminent breakout.
John Brown: The Breakout
On the surface, John Brown‘s rookie year does not appear to paint the best picture, but digging deeper tells a different story. Brown developed as the year progressed, and was effective when Carson Palmer played. Without Palmer, the drop off for Brown (and all Cardinals receivers) was obvious. In his final five games, Brown had an 80-percent Snap Share, which was 16 percent higher than his overall 64.1 percent Snap Share. This suggests that his snaps are bound to increase in 2015, which will help improve on his 80 targets. Brown’s 16-percent Hog Rate (targets per snap on PlayerProfiler.com) was No. 11 in the NFL in 2014. If the Hog Rate declines, the production will likely increase. While Brown’ inefficient 1.57 (No. 58) Fantasy Points Per Target last season was a minor red flag, improved quarterback play will certainly bump up this figure in the right direction. Brown’s 81st-percentile College Dominator Rating and quick rise up the Cardinals depth chart in 2014 strongly suggests that his football skills translate well to the NFL.
I would never guarantee that John Brown could ever produce a year like Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham did last year, but his floor is far safer than it initially seems. Brown’s most realistic floor is a 2014 Kenny Stills who posted 11.6 fantasy points per game on 14.8 yards per reception (YPR). If given a significantly higher target volume, his most realistic ceiling is a 2014 T.Y. Hilton who posted 17.2 fantasy points per game on a super-efficient 16.4 YPR .
If Brown delivers on his promise, we’ll all be doing the NFL’s wildest celebration dance together.
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