PHOENIX — A.J. Brown is the best wide receiver on the Philadelphia Eagles, the best wide receiver in Super Bowl 57 and — if FiveThirtyEight’s model is accurate — the best overall wide receiver in football.
So why isn’t he a bigger deal this week?
A.J. Brown Is Fueled by Disrespect
We had no trouble finding an opportunity to catch up with Brown during the Eagles’ final media availability of the week.
Brown sat at a podium but was an afterthought compared to teammates such as Darius Slay, Jason Kelce, and Fletcher Cox, who drew a crowd at nearby clusters. Brown, an All-Pro in 2022, was basically available for one-on-ones.
Perhaps that changes Sunday, when Brown’s Eagles face the Kansas City Chiefs on the biggest stage of his career. Brown is a sneaky good pick for game MVP.
But the Eagles might be just fine if Brown balls out and still doesn’t get the attention he deserves.
Disrespect is his power source.
“Yeah, it does. It does,” Aaron Moorehead, Brown’s position coach, said Thursday when asked if being overlooked fuels Brown. “He knows [how good he is], and he looks and sees ‘Well, they have a lot more targets.’ And I was like, Well, ‘You have DeVonta [Smith] on the other side who was a top-10 receiver in this league, and a run game.’
“I don’t take [him] for granted,” Moorehead continued. “I just tell him, ‘Hey, let’s make the most of our opportunities. You were close to 1,500 yards this year. And here’s three or four reasons we could have been at almost 1,700 that were in our control.’
“So I just tried to push him forward the best way I can, knowing that the only thing we can control is the footballs that were thrown and the opportunities that we’re given. And you can’t worry about what someone else is doing on another team because that has nothing to do with us. And all we can do is take care of what we can take care of day in and day out. And he’s been really fun to work with.”
A Look Back at A.J. Brown’s Tumultuous 2022
Brown shouldn’t be here at the Super Bowl. That’s not a knock on him.
It’s a criticism of the Titans. They were foolish to balk at paying him like a No. 1 receiver. And they were even more foolish to trade him to the Eagles last April, even if they got a first-round pick in return.
That decision might have ultimately cost Jon Robinson his job as Tennessee general manager. Trading for and extending Brown was one of many decisions that make Howie Roseman the best GM in the world.
Brown said Thursday it’s too early to reflect on how wild his 2022 was, but acknowledged his life is vastly different now than 12 months ago. When the Titans (erroneously) decided that a separation with Brown was in their best interests, he had a list of teams with whom he’d be willing to sign long-term.
The Eagles were No. 1, and “it was a gap” between 1 and 2.
“It was my friend Jalen,” Brown explained. “I didn’t really know much about Philly, or the Eagles, or who was on the roster. You know, all I cared about was Jalen. So he made my decision a lot easier.”
Jalen refers to Jalen Hurts, the Eagles quarterback and Brown’s close friend since Hurts tried (unsuccessfully) to recruit Brown to Alabama. They’re so close, according to this excellent ESPN feature from December, that some teammates say they bicker like an old married couple.
Hurts was a solid quarterback without Brown in 2021. With Brown on his team in 2022, he’s become one of the five best quarterbacks in football. Brown set or tied career highs in targets (145), catches (88), receiving yards (1,496), and touchdowns (11) in his first year in Philly.
Brown ranks first in overall wide recevier efficiency per FiveThirtyEight, which uses an ESPN model that, utilizing tracking data from NextGen Stats, analyzes every route a receiver runs — whether he’s targeted or not. The metric assigns a score based on getting open, contesting and making the catch, and generating yards after the catch.
MORE: Chiefs vs. Eagles Super Bowl Preview and Prediction
In 2022, Brown ranked first overall with 86 out of 100 points, edging out Justin Jefferson (85) and Tyler Lockett (84).
“I think the combination of Jalen, DeVonta, and A.J. together, the three of them have been unbelievable for each other in a lot of different ways,” Moorehead said. “And I think that they feed off of each other. I think they’re competitive with each other. I think that they are able to communicate with each other because of their relationships prior to being here in Philadelphia.
“So I just think that those three guys are really setting the standard for this for this organization moving forward,” Moorehead said. “I think the older guys, the Fletches, the Lane [Johnsons], the [Jason] Kelces, those guys, the Brandon Grahams, that have been here. You know, those guys set the standard for when they walk in the door, and now these guys have to be the ones pressing it forward as these guys are eventually going to retire. So really just excited to see where it goes.”
Where it might go Sunday is anyone’s guess. The Chiefs have a very young secondary — three of their top four corners are rookies — but they’ve played older than their years in 2022.
Still, Brown and Smith should have the edge over L’Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson, and Joshua Williams.
“He works at his craft,” Moorehead said of Brown. “He’s always asking questions about his individual matchups. He’s asking questions about just game plan things.
“… He just always asked him for information, getting my opinion on it, and then us collaborating to figure out the best way to do it,” Moorehead continued. “So just a tireless worker, and he wants to be great. Wants to be the best. You know, he had a good year, obviously, you had a career year. And, you know, I think he’d be the first one to tell you, it could have been better.
“He thought, you know, had a few things worked out here and there, he could have finished higher. You know, I think he’s still got some goals ahead of him that he wants to accomplish personally, and he wants to be the best receiver in the league. So it’s pretty, pretty good to work with guys like that.”