INDIANAPOLIS — The wide receiver position is getting plenty of attention when looking at the Indianapolis Colts this offseason.
The team has four receivers who are due to hit free agency in less than two weeks, all of whom were starters or played significant snaps for the team in 2018.
When speaking with reporters at the 2019 Scouting Combine this week, Colts head coach Frank Reich commented on his team’s receiver situation behind T.Y. Hilton, who they consider a “dog” of a player.
“If you’re a dog owner, you always know that two dogs are better than one,” Reich said with a laugh, acknowledging that they could use another player of Hilton’s caliber to take attention off of him and win in critical situations.
“Hey, I can put him over there 1-on-1 and it’s 3rd and 5, and I know we’ve gotta throw a slant route or a stop route, and he’s gotta win a very high percentage of the time,” Reich explained.
The group of receivers in the 2019 draft class has a lot of tough, big-bodied guys who could become those dog-type players in the NFL. Ole Miss receiver A.J. Brown is one of them.
"I'm a physical guy, I'm real tough. I like to really bully DBs," Brown told reporters Friday at the Combine.
What, specifically, does Brown have against those defensive backs?
"They're just in the way," he said with a laugh.
Although he looks like he’s chiseled from stone, Brown isn't expected to blow many people away with explosive testing scores at the Combine, but he makes up for it with his gritty play style.
Ole Miss made sure to get the ball in Brown’s hands often, especially after top receiver D.K. Metcalf went down with a neck injury. They would draw up screens and quick passes for Brown, but they’d also try and get him plays where he could run after the catch down the middle of the field.
That area is arguably where Brown is at his best: after the catch.
He is more of a slippery runner when engaging with defenders rather than shifty, and he understands what angles to take while cutting to show his elusiveness and to free himself to get into the open field. Brown also isn’t easily brought down with first hit if he doesn’t slip the tackle.
In order to pick up yards after the catch, you obviously have to be in position to not be immediately brought down, which shows that Brown can create space even though he isn’t the fastest guy on the field. He uses quick feet to get a good release which often sets him up for the win in his matchup.
Brown does run a variety of routes, and while his cuts are often smooth and convincing, they could become sharper on a more consistent basis. He’s effective when they are, but he often rounds out his cuts when approaching the middle of the field.
The 6-foot, 226-pounder has sure, natural hands, and he has proven capable of winning in 50-50 ball situations against defenders. He shows good concentration and body control in that area.
Since Brown is built like a running back or small linebacker, teams may want to get more out of him as a blocker. He is an okay, albeit inconsistent blocker right now and occasionally shows some real attitude, but he could become dominant in that area if his NFL team wants him to strive for that.
Brown has lined up as an outside receiver for Ole Miss — especially when Metcalf went down and much of the load fell to Brown — but his home in the NFL may be as a slot receiver, where he often looked most effective in college. If you ask him, that’s no problem.
"I'm faster than linebackers and safeties,” Brown said. “They try to keep up with me, and there's no way a linebacker could cover me in space. And safeties, they're so far off, once I get the ball in my hands they have to tackle me now."
Like Brown, those players are often quicker than fast, have sure hands and can make plays with the ball in their hand while catching it in stride.
"Personally, I'm the best receiver in the draft, by far,” Browns says. “I'm versatile, play inside and outside, I run great routes, I have strong hands, I'm a man after the catch. A lot of guys aren't like that — I'm very different."
FIT WITH THE COLTS
As previously mentioned, although the Colts have some solid players at the wide receiver position, they likely need another one that they can really hang their hat on.
“We have other players that did a really good job for us that we can count on in very specific situations and played winning football for us,” Reich said. “But obviously when you’ve got two guys that are in the category of a T.Y. Hilton, they can’t just roll the coverage to one guy.”
Reich also mentioned an area that they’d like to improve upon that Brown could specifically aid in.
“I felt like in our screen play, not necessarily in our running back screens, which I thought we were poor at, but in our wide receiver screens, I know we got a lot better as the year went on,” Reich said when talking about Indy’s 15th-ranked unit at picking up yards after the catch. “And so we got some good yards after the catch there. But I do think that we can continue to improve that as well.”
Sound like somebody we were just talking about?
Yes, a player is doing their job by simply making the catch and picking up those yards that were there for the taking, but to go to the next level is requires players who can create their own extra yards.
In an interview with The Pat McAfee Show this week, Colts general manager Chris Ballard stated that wide receiver is a hard position to scout nowadays, pointing to the lack of contact they face in the first five yards at the collegiate level, which they will have to deal with in the NFL.
While, again, Brown isn’t a blazer, he has good feet, short-area quickness and the physicality to win in those first five yards. He also brings the run after the catch ability that Reich spoke about.
"I watch Julio Jones like almost every day,” Brown said. “Just the physicality he plays with and the little things that get him out of his routes, I thrive on that every day."
The Colts also ensure that players fit the locker room. While no one who hasn’t been a coach or teammate of his can speak to him in that regard, he certainly has shown on tape that he is both a competitive and passionate player.
"I'm that guy. I bring leadership, I'm one of the hardest workers here. Sometimes, I need to take a break and I don't,” Brown said. “Like I said, I'm very passionate about my game and my craft. I'm bringing a playmaker and a tough guy."
Brown also had a bold proclamation regarding him and Metcalf in relation to former LSU teammates and current NFL Pro Bowlers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry:
(Pictured above, Brown is on the left and Metcalf is on the right.)