AJ Brown and the art of YAC

AJ Brown and the art of the YAC huddle originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

When AJ Brown catches the football, he thinks one thing: Keep going.

Through his first nine training camp practices as a member of the Eagles, that much has been abundantly clear.

“I think any time the ball is in my hands it can be an explosive play,” Brown said Tuesday. “So I think.”

Since entering the NFL as a second-round pick in 2019, Brown is third in the league in catches of 40+ yards with 16 behind only Mike Williams and Stefon Diggs. And it’s not like they’re all deep balls.

One area where Brown has been consistently good is with the ball in his hands. Yards after the catch have been a big part of his game in the NFL, and the Eagles are backing him in 2022.

“I think that’s something that I do, the dog that’s in me,” Brown said. “After the catch, I think it just comes down to heart. I am not scared. I play fearlessly on the field.

“And most of the time, I know guys don’t want to treat me. I know this, so I keep running. I run through the catch. That’s what I try to do.”

We’ve already seen a lot of her performances during training camp. Through nine practices, Jalen Hurts has thrown more passes to Brown than any other wide receiver. And many of those passes have been slanted at times and other timing patterns that give Brown an opportunity to skip the catch.

One of the areas Hurts needs to improve in Year 3 is his accuracy and his ability to throw with anticipation. If he can, there will be plenty of opportunities for Brown to get a ton of YAC.

What makes Brown so good at this particular element of his game?

“He’s like 230 (£),” Hurts said. “He’s a big guy and he’s got really strong hands and he can run. He’s been doing that for a while now in the league, for three years. We hope he continues to do so. I know he will.”

But it’s even more than size and desire that allows Brown to thrive in YAC situations.

“You can definitely practice it,” Brown said.

The way Brown practices his YAC is by running through each catch and making sure his feet stay on the ground, swinging.

“Every time my feet leave the ground, [the defender] has a step up on me now and can come in and handle. But if I keep both feet on the ground and I’m running. … I’m just giving away all my jewelry,” Brown said, cutting himself off briefly. “That’s what I try to practice. Even when I’m out here, just running through the catch, every single catch.”

While Brown’s YAC numbers were down in 2021, he was 10th in the NFL in that category in 2020 and was 6th in the NFL during his rookie season in 2019, according to ProFootballFocus.

Just take a look at Brown’s career breakdowns by catch point:

Deep (20+): 16 catches on 42 targets, 657 yards, 5 TDs, 142 YAC (8,875)

Average (10-19): 75 catches on 124 targets, 1,387 yards, 9 TDs, 470 YAC (6.27)

Short (0-9): 88 catches on 114 targets, 1,011 yards, 10 TDs, 480 YAC (5.45)

After LOS: 6 catches on 6 targets, 12 yards, 28 YAC (4.67)

Brown has done a lot of damage in his career by taking short and intermediate routes and destroying them down the field. That will be a big part of his game in Philly as well.

The Eagles last season weren’t terrible in YAC. They had 1,741 yards after the catch and averaged 5.7 yards after the catch per reception. But they have room to grow in this area. Nick Sirianni often mentions that big passing plays don’t have to come from deep shots.

“We know it’s important to create explosive plays,” Sirianni said. “If you’re one-dimensional in the way you make explosive plays, defenses are going to be able to stop him.”

Brown is a unique player because of his blend of size and athleticism. In many ways, he looks like a running back once he secures the catch.

On Tuesday, Brown said he grew up watching Julio Jones and likes the physical style Jones plays with. In his three years in the NFL, Brown has broken up 23 tackles.

“That’s the way I try to play the game,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a strong arm. It’s all I have to do to reach you. I’m not here trying to bash the world. I’m trying to score goals every time I get the ball. Every time I get the ball, my mindset is focused. This is. Run. Because every time a guy stops his feeling, I’ve got it.”

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