NFL Free Agency is slated to begin March 13, and dynasty owners are waiting in anticipation to learn where players will end up. The upcoming signings will not only impact the player joining their new team, but also the fantasy landscape for the team they join. As detailed by @dibari22 in his recent free agency article, this is not a particular talent-rich free agent wide receiver class compared to years past. While this may be true, there are a few intriguing options with upside. One that I believe is worth consideration as a target is John Brown.
John Brown (WR)
28 years old
DFF Dynasty ADP: 154
John Brown has a history of being a trendy name in fantasy and a dynasty darling. He enjoyed a breakout 2nd-year campaign in 2015 under Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals offense. He accrued 65 receptions for 1,003 yards and 7 TDs on 101 targets. While hopes were high for the following seasons, Brown struggled with health — specifically a sickle cell trait — that sapped his explosiveness and led to down seasons in 2016-2017.
John Brown Year by Year Stats
Following the 2017 season, the Cardinals decided to move on from Brown. Brown then signed a modest one year, $5MM deal with the Baltimore Ravens for the 2018 season. At first glance, his 2018 was a continued disappointment in his efforts to rebound. He caught 42 passes for 715 yard and 5 TDs. This qualified him for a WR41 finish, putting him outside of most starting lineup considerations. But these numbers do not tell the entire story of Brown’s 2018 season.
Above are the splits between games where Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson were the quarterbacks of the team. Brown’s production is night and day between the two with his stats falling off a cliff when Jackson took over. While Flacco was under center, Brown was on pace for 60 receptions for 1,072 yards and 7 TDs, putting him as WR17 for the season. The offensive shift to a low percentage passing attack with a QB that was rarely trusted to make plays with his arm (22 attempts/game) stopped Brown’s downfield utilization.
Despite this, Brown still finished 8th in air yards with 1,559 on only a 17% target share. He was on pace to be 4th in air yards before Flacco was injured, behind only Julio Jones (WR, ATL), Mike Evans (WR, TB), and DeAndre Hopkins (WR, HOU). Air yards are highly correlated with fantasy opportunity and the top receivers tend to rank among the leaders in this category. A final positive worth emphasizing is that he played in all 16 games. Brown had not done that since his rookie season in 2014.
Brown fits the mold for the types of receivers I tend to acquire for my competing dynasty squads: post-hype players with some question marks about health and/or production in the 27-30 age range. Specifically, I look for receivers ranked outside the top 40 that have evidence suggesting they can be a top 24 receiver in a given season. As they approach this age, their ADP drops dramatically and can be found at steep discounts.
I do not believe Brown will ever be the player he may have been had the sickle cell and other injuries not reared their ugly head. But 2018 showed he could step into a new offense — a poorly ranked one with a below average QB — and produce immediately for the team and fantasy squads. He has had over 1,500 air yards three of his five seasons while never needing to have over a 20% target share. He can produce as a secondary option in an offense and still be a consistent WR2 on fantasy squads.
If he lands as an outside receiver on the Packers, Steelers, Colts, or Chargers, his ceiling will be considerably higher, and he can be an immediate starter with top 15 weekly upsides in 2019. While his value will continue to diminish beyond this season, his current price is worth it based on what he can contribute in the near term.
Thank you for reading. You can find additional content in my DFF archive, and I can be found on Twitter @DFF_Tom. Happy to discuss all things fantasy, dynasty, and football.