With their second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans pulled the trigger on Ole Miss wide receiver A.J. Brown. Jacob Peeler, Brown’s position coach at Ole Miss, heaped very high praise on the young player in an interview with A to Z Sports.

“With A.J., I think the first thing that jumps out at you is his versatility,” Peeler said. “Being able to not only be a slot player, but he can move around and be an outside guy as well and be just as effective outside as he is inside. I just think his ability to run routes and transition from routes to run after the catch is as good as I’ve seen, and obviously probably one of the best I’ve coached at that.

“I just think his game transitions well to the next level. He performed at a high level in college as well as high school, so I think he’s just ready for that next step.”

Route Running

Picking Brown made a lot of sense for the Titans. His attributes fit well within the mold of what general manager Jon Robinson likes in his receivers, most notably Brown’s back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons at Ole Miss.

The trait that draft analysts have lauded the most when it’s come to Brown over the last few months is his quality route running. Peeler explained that Brown’s exceptional talent in route running stems from an ability to transition smoothly.

“The first thing that jumps out to me when I describe someone as a good route runner,” Peeler said, “is their ability to transition in and out of their cuts, whether it’s a comeback or a curl or it’s a dig. Basically, when you watch them run a route, they’re just seamless. They transition in and out really, really easily, and there’s not a whole lot of steps.

“I always want guys to do what I call a ‘two-step stick,’ which means it only takes them two steps to transition a route. If it takes them four, five, or six steps to get out, usually that’s something that you have to work on to get a little bit better at.

“[Brown] is just very seamless in and out of his cuts. Even if it’s a deeper route where he’s full speed…usually, guys struggle to get in and out of those cuts in more than two steps, and that was something he could do. He could be at a 15 or 20-yard depth and get in and out at full speed with ease.”

Playing Inside

Though he became the team’s primary outside receiver following an injury to teammate D.K. Metcalf last season, Brown mostly played in the slot for Ole Miss. When he arrived at the program as a freshman, though, Brown had only played on the outside.

Learning a new position was a challenge for Brown, but it was one that he was up for.

“When I first got hired at Ole Miss and got adjusted to everything there,” Peeler said, “we had three really good outside receivers with A.J., D.K. Metcalf, and Damarkus Lodge. We had some things that happened in the summer with a guy getting injured, and we thought A.J., having watched him all spring, would be a guy that we could move around and get in mismatch situations where, as a slot player, he would be a mismatch for every linebacker they lined up, and he would be too physical for a safety or nickel.

“When we went to day one, I remember he was a little frustrated because he was trying to get accustomed to playing a new position. Day two and day three, he just took to it like he had been doing it his whole life. He’d always been an outside guy, so getting accustomed to playing the slot and having to ID coverages and adjustments by defenses was something that came naturally to him.

“He’s got what you could deem an ‘outside skillset’ in terms of the routes and everything of that nature, but he also has the ability to move around and be a mismatch on the inside. He’s kind of the full package, I would call him a bit of a swiss army knife.”

After years of the ideal slot receiver fitting in the mold of smaller players like Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and Brandon Stokley, the NFL seems to be shifting towards a preference of bigger receivers in the slot. Adam Thielen (Vikings) and Michael Thomas (Saints) are good examples of this trend.

Even with their free agency addition of Adam Humphries, who figures to see a lot of time in the slot as well, the Titans are hoping that Brown can be their version of those aforementioned All-Pro slot receivers.

“They create mismatches because not only are they bigger body types, but they’re athletic enough and fast enough to get open,” Peeler said of bigger receivers in the slot. “Sometimes, as A.J. has done and other guys at the NFL level, they’re able to break that first tackle and turn it into a big play because they’re so physical and big, they’re not going down on first contact.

“I think that was something [Brown] really excelled at…he was able to shed off that first tackle and make a big play. He kind of looked like an old school running back once he got the ball in his hands. He was really creative, and used his athleticism and his God-given ability.”

“He loves the sport.”

When Robinson took over as the Titans general manager in 2016, he made a public proclamation that he would exclusively look for players who are tough, coachable, and who have a team first attitude.

According to Peeler, Robinson might as well have been describing Brown when he used those words. “That almost describes him to a T,” Peeler said. “The biggest thing that A.J. did was that he was very selfless at a position which, obviously, receivers often get labeled as ‘me’ guys and they want the ball and all that. Obviously, he did [want the ball], but he was such a quality teammate.

“He worked his tail off every day. It was not about him, it was about our group and our team. Again, even with the balls that we distributed throughout through those three receivers when you watch highlights and film, you see guys like D.K. Metcalf score a touchdown, and A.J. was the first one down there to celebrate with his teammates.”

Peeler added an anecdote to show exactly what he was talking about. “I remember getting phone calls late at night from him. He would be up at the office on a weekend, on a Friday night when most college kids are out doing what normal college kids do. He’s up at the facility watching NFL highlights of different receivers, and he wanted the password to get into the computer so he could do that.

“That just shows his mentality and where his mind’s at. It’s not about the hoopla and all the stuff that goes with it, it’s truly about football. He loves the sport and he wants to be great at it.”

If the words of the coach that spent the most time with him over the last two years are any indication, the Titans are getting, in Brown, someone that’s going to help them in a number of ways.


Cover image: Vasha Hunt & Jim Brown/USA Today