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AJ Brown: Why You Don't Trade Superstars

Updated: May 18, 2023

In his Week 13 revenge game against the Tennessee Titans, AJ Brown exploded for 8 catches, 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. After the game, Brown said “This one meant a lot to me. I’d be lying to you to say I didn’t circle this game.”

In April, the Titans unexpectedly traded away their superstar receiver to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 18th overall pick, where the Titans selected receiver Treylon Burks out of Arkansas. While NFL fans nationwide were shocked by this trade, it finally gave AJ Brown the chance to thrive in a pass-first dynamic offense. The result: a 12-1 start and 65 catches for 1,020 yards and 10 touchdowns in only 13 games. The Titans, on the other hand, have not been enjoying the same success. In their Week 13 game against the Eagles, the entire offense combined for 16 catches and 157 yards. Without AJ Brown, the Titans have had minimal production from their receivers, with Roberts Woods leading the way with 406 yards.

The goal of this analysis was to determine just how much the Titans are missing AJ Brown and to visualize just how transformative having AJ Brown has been for the Eagles. While they are in first place in their division at 7-6, the Titans have one of the worst receiver cores in the league. Their top three receivers, Robert Woods, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Treylon Burks have forced the Titans to run the ball 30 times a game and have forced tight ends Austin Hooper and Chigoziem Okonkwo to step up in the passing game. We did a comparative study between the Titans three best receivers and AJ Brown to juxtapose a superstar receiver and his

The first step of our analysis was to look at the total receptions by both Brown and the Titans leaders over the course of the season so far, as pictured below.

Woods, Westbrook-Ikhine, and Burks have combined for a total of 85 catches, and AJ Brown alone has caught 65 passes this season. It was surprising to see that one receiver was able to compete production-wise with three receivers. This just goes to show how abysmal the Titans’ passing attack has been but also how impressive AJ Brown’s season has been. What was also surprising was the difference between the average of the three leaders’ catches and Brown’s total catches. The Titans averaged 28 receptions across the three receivers which would place them outside of the top 75 in receptions. AJ Brown, on the other hand, ranks sixteenth in receptions for all receivers. In fact, the Eagles’ WR2 Devonta Smith has had 66 catches on the year, outproducing Robert Woods and Treylon Burks combined.

To better understand the player’s seasons and their reception totals, we created graphs (with inspiration from Stephen Pelfoker) that visualized the receivers’ individual reception distances. The dotted line represents a receiver’s median reception distance.

The first, and most notable, takeaway from this graph is AJ Brown’s deep threat potential. He has 8 receptions of over 30 yards and he has embraced the deep threat role in the Eagles offense. This role has added a new dimension to Jalen Hurts’ game, and having AJ Brown as a primary target has definitely helped the third year (and MVP favorite) quarterback. Outside of receptions over 30 yards, Brown’s variance seems spread out except for a tendency around a distance of 10 yards.

Robert Woods, in a full thirteen games, has an underwhelming season. His median catch distance is 9 yards, and he has been used mostly in the short passing attack in Tennessee. Primed to be the top target for Ryan Tannehill, the veteran receiver has been lackluster, especially on throws over 20 yards.

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine has not had much production this year, with only 22 catches to his name. His median reception distance is 14 yards, which, while better than that of Woods, hasn’t been enough to be reliable for the Titans this year.

Treylon Burks has been dealing with injuries and has missed four more games than either Woods or Westbrook-Ikhine. However, the first round pick has had a solid season and has been the Titans’ best receiver. An overwhelming majority of his catches have been less than 10 yards, which was similar to his usage at Arkansas as a physical receiver who excels after the catch. That being said, Burks was drafted to be AJ Brown’s replacement and has not given the Titans enough for them to be satisfied with him as a replacement.

Another area where AJ Brown has excelled is his ability to score touchdowns.

The Titans have struggled outside of Derrick Henry, and their top 3 receivers have only scored 5 times this year. Additionally, each receiver averages 1.6 receiving touchdowns, ranking outside of the top 80 for receivers. AJ Brown has scored 10 TDs this year which is 2nd among all receivers and twice as many as the three Titans receivers. Brown's ability to win jump balls and 50-50 balls in the endzone is something that the Titans are missing.

The Titans are a team that is a product of their run game. Last season, they were able to utilize AJ Brown and his talents in the play-action game which perfectly complemented Derrick Henry and the rushing attack. After trading Brown, however, the Titans have been the worst passing team in the NFL and have been one-dimensional with Derrick Henry. AJ Brown has been able to breakout with Jalen Hurts and the Eagles, posting superstar numbers and on his way to a Pro Bowl. Brown’s leap in production has shown the football world that – when given a talent as vicious as Brown’s – acquiring such a talent can revolutionize a team while trading one away can come back to bite them later on…

By Jack Gewanter and Nate Yellin

*All stats are through Week 14

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