The offseason John Brown hype is once again in full swing and maybe stronger than ever before. It’s been three years since his last fully healthy season though, and his past injuries and Baltimore’s recent passing woes have kept his ADP from shooting through the roof — but that is starting to change. If he is finally healthy, is the potential return worth the risk?
Brown’s ADP hovered around pick 200 at the start of the drafting season, but curiously dropped over the summer months despite a lack of any negative news. That trend has reversed itself with the glowing reports coming out of camp.
What Can Brown Do For You?
In 2015, Brown finished as the WR25 with 209.5 PPR points. That was back when wide receivers actually scored points though, and that score would have been good enough for a WR16 finish in last year’s depressed scoring environment.
In two injury plagued years since then, however, he’s been unable to replicate his success.
When discussing Brown’s injuries, the most commonly mentioned maladies are his sickle-cell trait and the cyst that was removed from his spine. Those were supposedly both addressed after his difficult 2016 season though, and everyone was excited for a healthy Brown heading into 2017.
So what happened?
While it’s possible his sickle-cell trait still played a role in his struggles, most of what ailed Brown was of a more mundane variety. He injured his quad during the preseason, and re-aggravated it in the regular season, missing two games. Brown then also lost four games to turf-toe later in the year. People forget that he also suffered from a condition known as Stantonitis.
While his AYA with Carson Palmer wasn’t great either, having nearly half his targets come from Drew Stanton certainly didn’t help.
It’s always possible that Brown’s one great season was just a flash in the pan and that he’ll never recapture that past glory again. However if he can even replicate some of that efficiency, he could easily be a value at his current price.
After their depressing offensive output last year, it’s easy to forget that the Ravens led the league in pass attempts as recently as 2016, and in 2015 before that. There were a few factors that led to a decrease in pass attempts in 2017.
The first issue was that Joe Flacco’s back was held together with duct tape, glue, and popsicle sticks. Now that he’s no longer patched together like a middle-school art project, the Ravens may be willing to pass the ball more. We all know Flacco hasn’t been a great QB, but 2017 was bad even by his standards.
Flacco was also throwing to some of the worst receivers in the league. Veteran Jeremy Maclin still doesn’t have a job and his playing career may be over. Meanwhile, Breshad Perriman had, without exaggeration, what may have been the worst season for a WR ever.1 Flacco’s two best pass-catchers, Mike Wallace and Ben Watson, were both far on the wrong side of 30. I wouldn’t want to throw to those guys either.
Finally, the Ravens 64 percent pass percentage last year was right in between their numbers from 2015 and 2016, where they came in at 63 and 65 percent respectively. Any change in game script where they aren’t frequently just salting away games in which their defense gave them a lead2 would bring the passing volume back up.
In the past, much of this passing volume has gone to the tight ends and running backs. However the personnel this year is somewhat different. Gone are reliable veterans from years past like Dennis Pitta and Ben Watson, and they have been replaced with rookie TEs Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. While the Ravens rookies may see more work than most rookie TEs, they may not be the focal point that past TEs were.
As recently as 2016, Wallace and Steve Smith both eclipsed 100 targets for the Ravens, and there’s no reason Brown can’t slide into a similar role and match his target total from 2015. Aside from sleeper Chris Moore, the depth chart behind the starters is paper thin. Brown can play all three WR positions, and his strong camp may allow him to lock up a place in two-WR sets ahead of fellow free agent addition Willie Snead.
There’s still plenty of uncertainty with Brown. We’re not great at predicting injuries, but the likelihood of him getting injured again is probably less than what recency bias would have us believe. It’s been two full seasons since we’ve seen Brown play well, but at age 28 he’s still in the prime of his career, and he’s stepping into a situation with a massive number of targets available.
The important thing here is that his price is still reasonable. He’s still being drafted in the same area as unproven rookies with questionable roles like John Ross and Courtland Sutton, but the window is closing. At a WR72 price, Brown is a virtual lock to smash his ADP if he can stay healthy, even if he can’t make it all the way into the top-24 at the position.