After spending back-to-back first-round picks on wide receivers, the Philadelphia Eagles decided to invest a Day 1 selection on a proven playmaker with a surprise trade this past April. Shortly after selecting Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis with the 13th overall selection, the Eagles traded the 18th overall pick to the Tennessee Titans for former Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Brown.
The Eagles haven’t had a wide receiver eclipse 1,000 receiving yards since 2014, and Brown, at just 24, has already produced two 1,000-yard seasons in only three NFL campaigns. Brown, who is close friends with QB Jalen Hurts, will look to be the yin to DeVonta Smith’s yang for the foreseeable future.
While Smith set the franchise rookie record for receiving yards last season, he didn’t have much help around him in the receiving room. With Brown now in the mix, the Eagles — particularly Hurts and Smith — should see a boost in the passing game. In this week’s PFN Roundtable discussion, we take a look at what Brown’s addition could mean from a competitive standpoint, the fantasy football and betting impacts, as well as the 2023 draft implications for the Eagles.
How A.J. Brown can help Jalen Hurts, DeVonta Smith, and others in the Eagles’ passing game
Brown has proven to be a dependable X receiver in the NFL. He should be able to complement Smith, who is better fit for the Z position as a flanker. With Brown taking on the challenge of press coverage and Smith getting more room to operate behind the line of scrimmage, Hurts should be helped by having two consistently open wideouts in the passing game.
Last season, Hurts struggled with accuracy and downfield consistency. However, Brown and Smith should form an upgraded duo over the previous rotation of Smith, Quez Watkins, and Jalen Reagor. With Brown and Smith handling the primary outside duties, Watkins can man the slot as a speed mismatch. Adding veteran wideout Zach Pascal and tight end Dallas Goedert to the mix will give Hurts the full complement of weapons he needs to succeed.
Brown is a big-play creator who can gain yards after the catch. He has averaged 16.2 yards per catch through the first three years of his career. Given that he’s averaged 61.7 catches per season, that’s a pretty strong production-per-play load for the wideout, who can beat physical corners with his intriguing mix of size and speed.
The 6’1″, 226-pound WR ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 2019, and his ability to separate in multiple ways should help Hurts find a passing option on most plays. Hurts and Brown also already have built-in chemistry from years of working out together in the offseason.
With Brown likely to take on the regular X role, Smith should be able to get open often. Playing the flanker spot will keep defenders’ hands off Smith at the line of scrimmage, and he should be able to take a step forward in Year 2. Despite being the clear No. 1 passing option last season, Smith — last year’s 10th overall pick — still collected 14.3 yards per catch. During his rookie season, he produced 64 catches for 916 yards and five touchdowns.
With Brown on the other side, Smith should be able to exceed all three numbers this season. Brown’s arrival should also push head coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen to focus more on the passing game, enhancing the passing stats of Hurts, Smith, Watkins, and Goedert. – Mike Kaye, PFN Lead NFL Reporter
How Brown impacts Hurts and Smith in fantasy football
The addition of Brown for the Eagles is fascinating from a fantasy perspective. Let’s start by looking at the impact of his addition on Hurts, using Brown’s time with the Titans as a comparison.
Brown missed six games while with the Titans, and Ryan Tannehill’s performance suffered in those six games. In 39 games with Brown, Tannehill averaged more than 1.8 touchdown passes per game compared to 0.83 without Brown. Additionally, Tannehill averaged around 15 fewer passing yards per game when Brown was absent.
That meant Tannehill averaged 4.5 fantasy points per game more when he had Brown on the field. If the arrival of Brown leads to a similar bump for Hurts in 2022, he will have the chance to finish as the top QB for fantasy this year.
The minor concern for Hurts is that the arrival of Brown may see him carry the ball fewer than the 139 attempts he had last season. If that causes a significant drop in his 10 rushing touchdowns, that could negate the passing gains he might see due to Brown’s presence.
The situation with Smith is more tricky. Smith struggled for consistency last season and averaged just 7.2 fantasy points per game. The intriguing element is how targets are split between the receiving options. DeVonta Smith had 104 targets last year in 17 games, with Dallas Goedert seeing 76 in 15 games. Quez Watkins and Jalen Reagor both had more than 50 targets, and Zach Ertz saw 30 before he was traded. Brown’s main impact should be to absorb targets from the Reagor, Watkins, and Ertz combination.
The question is whether the Eagles will throw the ball more than 494 times this year. If they do not significantly increase that total, Smith could see a little of his target share eaten by Brown. However, that would be balanced out by defenses likely shifting some of their focus from Smith to Brown, potentially allowing for more production from those targets as he goes up against fewer double teams and less-skilled cornerbacks during the season. – Ben Rolfe, Director of Fantasy and Betting
What impact did the trade have on the Eagles’ betting odds?
Frequently, seemingly big roster moves have a minimal impact on betting odds. This is not one of those times.
The addition of Brown is a game-changer for the Eagles. Last season, Hurts was relegated to throwing to the likes of Reagor and Watkins as his secondary receivers, with Smith miscast as the team’s WR1. Now, Smith gets to play his more natural WR2 role while Brown steps in as the true alpha Hurts can rely on.
Sportsbooks reacted swiftly to the big trade. The Eagles’ Super Bowl odds opened at around +4500. Their odds to win the NFC East were around +300. Following the Brown trade, the odds jumped on both. Currently, the Eagles are +3000 to win the Super Bowl and +185 to win their division (Caesar’s Sportsbook).
There’s definitely still value in the Eagles as a longshot play to win the Super Bowl. However, the odds shift on them to win the division has gotten to a point where the value is just about gone.
Philadelphia’s win total sits at 9 (over -145). If you’re in on the Eagles this year, it might be more prudent to just take their win total over (I would look for 9.5 with a more reasonable vig, though). They’re not winning the division unless they get to 10 wins, but there’s a realistic scenario where the Eagles win 10 games but don’t win the division. Either way, bettors and sportsbooks alike have become quite bullish on the Eagles this season. – Jason Katz, PFN Fantasy and Betting Analyst
What does the Brown trade mean for their 2023 NFL Draft plans?
A lot hinges on the play of Jalen Hurts himself, but on paper, the Eagles’ passing attack looks much improved heading into 2022. That improvement is centered around the presence of Brown and Smith. With Brown, the Eagles now have their X receiver who can win one-on-one matchups with speed and physicality. They can also naturally keep Smith at Z and let him feast off of the imbalance created by Brown.
The Eagles also have passable depth. Pascal, on a one-year deal, is a reliable rotational receiver with scheme familiarity. Watkins took a leap in 2021 and has dynamic spark-plug potential, and Reagor remains in the rotation as well.
Philadelphia has a decent WR corps, and the presence of Goedert helps alleviate any pressing concerns. But the Eagles’ WR group isn’t complete yet. On the surface, there exists the need for a slot receiver. But Brown, who functions as an X, can also rotate into the “big slot” role. Thus, the Eagles would do well to target another receiver who they can rotate in a similar way — a receiver to take the X spot while Brown occupies the slot and a receiver with the size to be the big slot while Brown is at the X.
Early in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, this archetype seems a bit more difficult to come by. A few names that stand out right away, however, are Maryland’s Dontay Demus Jr., Texas’ Jordan Whittington, and Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson. All three offer slightly different skill sets, but they each fit the desired role for the Eagles.
Demus is coming off a major knee injury, but if he can get back to 100%, he’s a size/speed freak at 6’3″, 217 pounds with exceptional three-level potential. Whittington is a RAC nightmare with impressive catching instincts, and Hutchinson is a 6’3″, 210-pound veteran with boundary/slot versatility, smooth releases at the line, and stellar body control. – Ian Cummings, PFN NFL Draft Analyst