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Returning Dominators: No. 10 – A.J. Brown and N’Keal Harry

In this series, I’m breaking down the top-10 returning college wide receivers from 2017 by dominator rating (DR). If you’re unfamiliar with dominator rating, it’s a receiver’s combined market share of receiving yardage and touchdowns. While it’s only one element in receiver evaluation – and requires age and experience adjustments to tell the full story – it provides an excellent snapshot of a player’s role within his offense.

Consider this an early look at potential rookies in the 2019 class to get a jump-start on the draft season. I’ll take a look back at their prospect profiles and rankings from high school, their production at the college level, and prospectus for the NFL. The 2017 countdown included Michael Gallup, Courtland Sutton, Anthony Miller, and Richie James. For the two receivers profiled below, their draft stock is already high and are likely to be early picks come April. For that reason, I’m giving them their own section here to help kick off the true start of the college football season. Queue the band!

A. J. Brown – Ole Miss

Brown is an imposing figure on the outside at 6 feet 1 inch and 230 pounds. The junior from Starkville, Mississippi, was rated a four-star recruit by 247 sports, and the No. 4 wide receiver in the country. An Under Armour All-American in both football and baseball, he picked the Rebels over hometown Mississippi State and Alabama.

He found the field right away at the collegiate level and played in all 11 games as a true freshman. With Evan Engram commanding the majority of targets, Brown finished fifth on the team with 29 catches for 412 yards (11 percent market share) and two touchdowns (7 percent market share). A dominator rating of 0.09 doesn’t move the needle, even as a freshman, but he got on the field in arguably the toughest conference in all of college football and was competing against a first-round pick.

With Engram in the NFL, Brown took over the top spot in the offense in 2017 and led the Rebels in every receiving category. He eclipsed 100 yards in a game six times on his way to 1,252 yards (32 percent market share) and 11 touchdowns (39 percent market share). Brown’s 0.36 dominator rating as a sophomore gives him a breakout age of 20, another positive indicator for future NFL success.

Year Class Games Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Team Passing Team TDs MS Yards Ms TDs Dominator
2016 Fr. 11 29 412 2 3,779 27 0.11 0.07 0.09
2017 So. 11 75 1252 11 3,941 28 0.32 0.39 0.36

The knock on Brown’s 2017 campaign seems to be centered on his lack of production against other SEC foes. Against Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU — all losses — Brown registered only seven receptions for 93 yards total. Conversely, he went bonkers against South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin in the opening two games, producing 16 receptions, 389 yards, and four touchdowns. Those two games alone represent 31 percent of his receiving yards and 36 percent of the receiving touchdowns for the year!

Brown has been named a 2018 Preseason All-American and selected to the watch list for numerous collegiate awards, including the Maxwell, Biletnikoff, and Walter Camp awards. He’s also competing against another talented receiver in teammate D.K. Metcalf who could also be among the early wide receiver selections in the 2019 draft. In our devy rankings, Brown holds the top spot for Eric Braun while slotting in fifth for Jordan Hoover. Brown, Metcalf, and Ole Miss open the season on Saturday at noon EDT against Texas Tech.1

N’Keal Harry – Arizona State

Like Brown, N’Keal Harry is a true junior who is getting plenty of draft buzz already. The 6-foot-4-inch, 213 pounder from Chandler, Arizona, was a four-star recruit and the No. 1 prospect in the state. With numerous offers on the table, Harry took official visits to Texas A&M and Washington before committing to the Sun Devils.

Harry’s impact out of the gate was more pronounced than Brown’s, as Harry led Arizona State with 58 receptions and five touchdowns (31 percent market share) and was second in receiving yards with 659 (21 percent market share). His 58 receptions were the most for any freshman in the NCAA and earned him multiple Freshman All-American honors. A dominator rating of 0.26 as an 18-year-old true freshman is very encouraging.

In 2017, Harry commanded an ever-larger piece of the Arizona State offense and helped the Sun Devils reach a bowl game after missing out in 2016. He eclipsed 140 receiving yards in three games and led the team in every receiving category, posting 82 receptions, 1,142 yards (34 percent market share), and eight touchdowns (38 percent market share). His dominator rating increased by ten points from 2016. Like Brown, Harry officially broke out as a true sophomore. However, Harry is six months younger, moving his breakout age to 19. He will play the majority of his rookie year at age 21 should he declare after this season. That is an important mark in his favor that Blair Andrews hit upon back in April in his great The Wrong Read series, noting:

More than 20 percent of seasons played by WRs who were 21-year-old rookies have finished in the top 24. No other draft-age group was able to reach WR2 status in even 15 percent of their seasons.

Year Class Games Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Team Passing Team TDs MS Yards Ms TDs Dominator
2016 Fr. 12 58 659 5 3,111 16 0.21 0.31 0.26
2017 So. 13 82 1,142 8 3,324 21 0.34 0.38 0.36

Without Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard, it’s possible Arizona State leans on Harry even more in 2017 to carry the offense. The expectations and accolades are certainly high as he was named to the watchlists for the Biletnikoff and Maxwell awards. Harry occupies the top spot for Jordan Hoover in our devy rankings and is second only to Brown for Eric Braun. You can watch Harry and Arizona State face-off against the University of Texas San Antonio on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. EDT.

  1. You should also keep an eye on T.J. Vasher for the Red Raiders.  (back)

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