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A.J. Brown’s NFL projection may not be what Ole Miss fans expect

OXFORD – When A.J. Brown decided he’d be declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft last week, he did so knowing that he would leave Oxford as the most accomplished wide receiver in Ole Miss history. What many may not know is that Brown may not even be the most sought-after wide receiver on his own team.

Brown is the fourth rated receiver on Matt Miller’s Bleacher Report big board. According to The Draft Network’s Jon Ledyard, he’s number five. Both have Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf rated well ahead. It’s not that Brown isn’t a hot commodity that is likely to go early in the draft, he just lacks the upside and athleticism that Metcalf displays on nearly every down.

“I don’t think A.J. Brown elevates really well. I don’t think he jumps great and I don’t think he’ll test great. He’s not bad, but I don’t think he’s a great athlete, period,” Ledyard said. “He’s savvy with the ball with his hands, but is he truly explosive? I don’t see that. I’m not as high on him as other people are.”

Ironically, Metcalf’s neck-injury that forced him to miss the back half of this season allowed Brown to show off a little more than his normal role. Brown played nearly all snaps prior to Metcalf’s injury from the slot. While he’s likely an NFL slot receiver, post-Metcalf’s injury, Brown played significant snaps outside.

The NFL slot position has traditionally been reserved for smaller, shiftier players. A.J. Brown is 6-foot-1 and weighs 230 pounds. Thankfully for Brown, it’s not 2007. In recent years, larger players such as Larry Fitzgerald and Adam Thielan have found tremendous success playing over 50-percent of their snaps from the slot. But the injury to Metclaf gave scouts a glimpse. They know that Brown can now play both positions, if needed.

“It definitely helps. There were mixed results on tape. The Vanderbilt game was kind of a great glimpse. He had 212 yards of receiving or whatever (from the outside position),” Ledyard said. “But in that game Joejuan Williams, that 6-foot-3 210-pound corner, with his length and physicality at the line of scrimmage, bothered him. Brown isn’t used to that. He’s used to clean releases from the slot instead of big guys right up in your face. It’ll be an adjustment for him.”

Ledyard is simply one opinion. In Albert Breer’s recent Sports Illustrated mock draft, A.J. Brown was the first receiver selected. While Ledyard isn’t as high on Brown as some in the scouting community, he did say that he’d love to have him in the second round.

Besides athleticism questions, Ledyard said he is concerned about the translation of some of the concepts in the Ole Miss offense to the NFL. Brown told DraftWirein a recent interview that Ole Miss has a play in the offense called “get open.” No part of that exists in an NFL scheme, and seems like a significant indictment of offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s scheme.

While Brown may not have the upside of a D.K. Metcalf, he is the most polished Ole Miss receiving prospect, and carries significantly less chance or projection. Brown has shown it all on film. He has the best numbers, against quality SEC play, of anyone in the draft class. There’s still significant time between now and February’s NFL Combine, and in the eyes of some, Brown has some work to be done.