In this series of articles, our resident tape wizard Greg Cosell will take an in-depth look at some of the more interesting fantasy players for the 2020 NFL season. It’s a peek behind the curtain of the film room, as these are Greg’s raw, unfiltered notes he takes as he watches a player.
The 2019 NFL season was a fascinating one for the Tennessee Titans. They found a new franchise QB, they developed into the NFL’s most “old school” run game, and they found a potential star at WR. But it wasn’t 2017 top-five pick Corey Davis… it was 2019 second-round rookie AJ Brown. Is there reason to believe Davis might still have some very good days ahead of him, or is Brown already the far superior player?
As always, let’s head into the film room to decide.
Brown’s stats with Ryan Tannehill at QB (beginning Week 7): 43/842/6 (19.6 YPR, 71 targets)
Brown was the Titans’ X receiver, both to the boundary and the field depending on personnel and formation. He aligned in multiple splits.
Brown lined up on the ball as the X, but also played snaps off the ball depending on personnel and formation. In 2x2 sets, Brown was often the Z to the field. He also had some snaps in the slot where Brown worked inside, and even as the point man (the “tip” of the bunch on the line of scrimmage) in trips bunch.
Brown was featured on slants and in-breaking routes off the timing play action pass game – some slants came on RPO concepts.
Brown was featured on reduced splits at boundary X in the “bang” play action pass game, especially out of the straight I formation (a staple of the Titans’ offense).
Brown in reduced splits at the boundary X was a staple part of Titans pass game. It gave Brown the ability to work both inside and outside.
Brown ran out cuts from the X alignment, stemming inside off of the tendency to run in-breaking routes. Brown is physical at the top of his route stem on these plays to create separation.
What immediately stood out with Brown were his strong hands to catch the ball away from his body.
Brown features as a strong run-after-catch player, with a powerful body and high-level competitiveness. He’s tough to tackle in the open field – effective on slants and screens.
Brown ran vertical routes from the X alignment. He did not create much over-the-top separation, but his strong body, excellent hands, and good tracking ability allowed him to make tough catches.
Brown played with physical and competitive toughness in all facets of the game. He was aggressive and physical, attacking and defeating press man coverage – his 91-yard TD versus the Raiders came on a post route in which he beat the press corner off the line with short area quickness and one-arm physicality.
Brown showed deceptive straight-line run-after-catch speed. He’s not explosive overall, but showed effective build up speed.
Brown is effective working the middle of the field, he knew how to position his body and he had strong yet soft hands. That was a strength of his game.
Brown was savvy and refined as a route runner for a rookie. He featured subtle, nuanced moves at the top of his route stem to create separation, especially on out-breaking routes.
On both his 91-yard TD versus the Raiders and his 60-yard reception versus the Texans, Brown used his inside arm to create separation early in his vertical stem. That allowed him to get on top of the corner – veteran Johnathan Joseph was the corner on the long reception against the Texans.
The Titans took advantage of Brown’s excellent run-after-catch ability with screens and reverses.
Brown’s 34-yard catch late against the Saints (his only catch of the game) came with Brown getting on top of CB Marshon Lattimore in press man coverage. Brown beat Lattimore with patience and short area quickness and burst – it was also a great throw by Tannehill.
My sense is, in 2020, you’ll see Brown become more multiple in his alignments. He will still be the boundary X, but I believe his skill set and competitiveness will allow him to become more versatile.
- Davis’ stats: 43/601/2 (14.0 YPR, 69 targets)
- Davis was predominantly the Z receiver in the Titans’ offense (He played snaps at X until Brown settled in as the predominant X). There were some snaps on which he lined up in the slot depending on personnel and formation.
- Davis predominantly lined up in the slot when it was twins to the field with the boundary closed (Titans did this predominantly out of 12 personnel). Two catches he made illustrate this — A 25-yard catch in the first game against the Colts on a slant route off split flow outside zone RPO concept, and then a 24-yarder in the second game against the Jaguars off conventional iso lead run action out of straight I.
- Later in the season there were snaps in which Davis lined up at the #1 to twins to the field opposite the closed boundary.
- Overall Davis played significant snaps both off the ball at Z and on the ball at X. He was used as the movement receiver when aligned at Z with both motion across the formation and “zin” motion.
- Davis is more of a straight-line, linear, tight-hipped route runner than a sink-your-hips, quick in-and-out-of-breaks route runner. Davis has a tendency to be a little too upright in his vertical stem.
- Davis looked smooth and fluid, but he was not sudden or explosive in his route running.
- Davis did not show a lot of separation quickness at the top of his route stem when he had to snap in-and-out of a break. He has a tendency to be choppy with his steps.
- Davisi is more of a speed cut route runner, but he needs to get quicker out of his cuts. There’s not as much sudden burst as you’d like to see.
- An area Davis struggled at times when lined up on the ball at X was attacking and defeating press coverage. He’s choppy in his steps off the line of scrimmage and did not show the needed short-area quickness to cleanly release.
- When Davis was lined up in the slot to twins opposite a closed boundary, he predominantly ran slants and screens.
- Davis had success running in-breaking routes – slants, crossers – when he had free access off the LOS and could use his stride length and build up speed to run away from man coverage. He ran those routes from both the slot and reduced splits.
- At times Davis was effective on out cuts from plus splits, working off angled inside vertical stems and then breaking to the sideline. That route was particularly effective versus off-coverage zone corners.
- My sense watching Davis was that he was more of a one-speed receiver than a short area burst or second-gear vertical receiver.
- Davis needs to schemed to be at his most effective: personnel, formations, reduced splits, motion, bunch, stacks – he is at his best with free access where he can build up speed.
- My sense watching the tape was Davis was not overly physical for a tall receiver with good size. He layed much more of a finesse game.
- One thing that showed up throughout the season was there were a good number of snaps on which Davis was open and the ball was thrown to him late or with poor ball placement, resulting in incompletions.