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Can Hollywood Brown justify the hype for the NY Jets?

Hollywood Brown
Hollywood Brown

The New York Jets would need Hollywood Brown to justify his name

In the 2023 offseason, the New York Jets strongly pursued Odell Beckham Jr. They drew a line in the sand below the $15 million guaranteed that the Baltimore Ravens offered Beckham, ultimately backing out. In hindsight, that move appears just as wise as it was in foresight.

This offseason, a wide receiver with certain similarities will hit the market. Hollywood Brown is another diva wide receiver, evidenced by his name. The former first-round pick was also traded for a first-rounder two years ago. However, his production has failed to live up to his reputation, particularly in 2023.

Can Brown come in to be the Jets’ No. 2 receiver? More importantly, at what cost?

Basic info

  • Age: 26.7
  • Height: 5-foot-9
  • Weight: 180 pounds
  • College: Oklahoma
  • Experience: 4 years (Drafted Round 1, Pick 25 by Baltimore in 2019)
  • Teams: Ravens (2019-21), Cardinals (2022-23)
  • Previous contract: 5 years, $25.2 million (fifth-year option of rookie deal)

Measurables

  • Data from 2019 Combine (via Mockdraftable)
  • Percentiles among all-time wide receiver prospects

  • Height: 5’9⅜” (8th percentile)
  • Weight: 166 pounds (1st)
  • Wingspan: 71¾” (7th)
  • Arm length: 30½in (14th)
  • Hand size: 9″ (20th)

Brown did not do Combine or pro day testing due to injury.

Role

Brown edged out tight end Trey McBride for the Cardinals’ lead in targets per game (6.7 to 6.2). However, from Weeks 1-9, Brown was averaging 8.2 targets per game, while he averaged just 6.2 over the remaining three full games he played; McBride, on the other hand, went from 2.9 targets per game over the first seven weeks to 8.5 per game thereafter.

Even before injuries did Brown’s season in, McBride had replaced him as the top weapon in Arizona’s offense, and that only became more pronounced when Kyler Murray returned in Week 10.

Brown played 85% of Arizona’s offensive snaps in the games he played. Michael Wilson (81%), Rondale Moore (67%), and McBride (69%) trailed him, though Wilson dealt with injuries for several games, as well.

Brown’s role diminished significantly from 2022 when he was Arizona’s clear target leader with 8.6 per game. That was similar to his 8.7 mark from 2021, his final season in Baltimore.

Despite his small frame, Brown is primarily an outside receiver. He played 79.8% of his snaps out wide in 2023 and only 20% in the slot.

Per NFL Next Gen Stats, here is a look at the distribution of Brown’s route tree in 2023 based on the percentage of his routes run (all routes, not just targeted routes) that were classified as each route type.

Brown’s preferences for crossers and go routes mirror Aaron Rodgers’ passing preferences perfectly.

2023 performance

Inefficient

Brown had one of the least efficient seasons of any qualified receiver in the NFL. Among 70 qualifiers (min. 60 targets), he ranked 55th in yards per route run (1.25), 65th in yards per target (6.1), and 68th in catch rate (54.3%).

This Pro Football Focus chart would indicate that Brown’s struggles did not stem from failing to create separation. He simply did not produce at the catchpoint even while getting open at an above-average rate.

No contested catches

Brown went just 5-for-21 (23.8%) on contested catches in 2023. To a certain extent, that is to be expected for a receiver with his slight frame and small hands. Still, his 23.8% rate was the fifth-worst among qualified receivers, which is particularly bad considering how many contested targets he had. His 22.3% contested target rate ranked 53rd out of 70 qualifiers.

For an outside receiver, that number is particularly troubling. You expect a slot receiver to struggle with contested catches, but it’s harder when the player is an X or Z.

Lackluster deep production

Brown did not take deep targets quite as much as his reputation would suggest. His 22.3% deep target rate ranked 30th out of 66 qualified receivers (min. 12 deep targets). Still, among those players, his 28.6% catch rate (6-for-21) ranked 49th, his 29.2 yards per reception ranked 57th, and his 8.33 yards per route run ranked 53rd.

From the numbers, it’s hard to know how much to attribute this to quarterback play. Joshua Dobbs and Kyler Murray combined to go 19-for-56 (33.9%) for 579 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions on passes of 20+ yards downfield. Among 35 qualified passers, that completion percentage would have ranked 25th, while the 10.3 yards per attempt would have ranked 28th. Brown was dealing with a less-than-ideal passing tandem on his deep balls, perhaps causing some of his lackluster deep production.

The film backs this up. Many of Brown’s deep targets were either ill-advised throws or completely overthrown. Often, he had a step or two but the quarterback simply could not connect.

Brown’s biggest asset is his blazing speed. It shows up more on film than in the statistics; though he is not among the league leaders in GPS metrics, he gets up to full speed quite quickly and can blow by defenders. That will always make him a downfield threat.

Terrible YAC

Brown posted just 3.3 YAC per reception in 2023, ranking 52nd out of 70 qualifiers. Part of that can be attributed to his above-average 12.7 average depth of target, which ranked 22nd; after all, among the 21 receivers with a higher ADOT, eight had a lower YAC rate than he did. Many of his targets were not conducive to YAC.

Comparing 2023 performance to previous track record

It’s concerning that Brown’s yards per route run has diminished steadily for each of the past three seasons, from 1.85 in 2020 to 1.25 in 2023. To a certain extent, the declines over the past two seasons are attributable to quarterback play. Still, the fact that McBride had 2.03 yards per route run in the same offense in 2023 doesn’t bode well for Brown.

Brown’s 23.8% contested catch rate in 2023 was also the worst of his career, although he’s gone back and forth in that area; in 2022, he caught 11 of 17 contested targets (64.7%), and he was also at 9-for-18 (50%) in 2021. For his career, he’s at 41.6% on contested catches, suggesting that 2023 might have been an outlier.

Brown had a 5.6% drop rate in 2023, somewhat better than the 6.1% receiver average. It was the second consecutive year Brown hit below that threshold. His career 6.2% drop rate is just about average, and other than an outlier 9.2% rate in 2020, Brown is generally about average when it comes to his hands. Still, because he tends to catch with his body, there will always be some concern about drops.

Brown’s YAC per reception has gone down every year of his career, from 4.8 in his rookie season to 3.3. He was already at 3.6 in 2022, while he was at 4.7 and 4.4 in his other two Ravens seasons. That’s despite the fact that his highest ADOT came in his first two seasons in the NFL (13.4 and 14.0).

Brown’s reputation as a deep threat may be misleading, at least compared to his statistics. After catching 7 of 15 deep targets (46.7%) for 266 yards (38.0 yards per reception) and 4 touchdowns in his rookie season, Brown hasn’t come close to replicating that production since. He still averaged 33 yards per deep reception in 2021, but on a 33% catch rate. He went just 5-for-30 in 2021 and 6-for-23 in 2022.

Some of this may be attributable to quarterback play, as well; Lamar Jackson’s heights as a deep passer came in his 2019 MVP season, and he has been lackluster in that area ever since. Still, Brown hasn’t produced as a consistent deep threat in at least three seasons.

Scheme fit

Brown could potentially be a decent fit opposite Garrett Wilson — if he rediscovers his deep ability. Considering how many times Cardinals quarterbacks missed him deep in 2023, it does seem possible that a marriage with Aaron Rodgers would unleash Brown’s deep threat once more. After all, over a quarter of Brown’s routes are go routes, and that’s what Rodgers likes to target.

Furthermore, it seems that Brown is usually at least roughly league average when it comes to contested catches. The receiver average was 42.3% in 2023, and Brown’s career average is 41.9%. The problem is that he’s been a bit all over the place; he has two seasons below 30% and two seasons at 50% and over 60%. Still, while Brown isn’t going to be that big go-up-and-get-it receiver some Jets fans envision, he’s generally tougher than you’d expect a 5-foot-11, 180-pound receiver to be.

The biggest issue for Brown is his lack of efficiency, which has been steadily declining for several seasons. The last two seasons can be forgiven to an extent due to the Cardinals’ poor passing game, but even in his 1,000-yard season in 2021, his 1.61 yards per route run was below average.

Durability

Brown has played a full season only once in his career. Overall, he’s played in 72 of 83 possible career games. He missed two games in his rookie season with an ankle injury, then had surgery to deal with a Lisfranc fracture during the offseason. He missed a game in 2021 due to a thigh injury. In 2022, he went on injured reserve with a fractured foot and missed five games. In 2023, he missed another three games (plus part of one and nearly another whole one) due to a nagging heel injury.

Overall, injuries are a nagging problem for Brown, and he will generally miss at least a couple of games in a season.

Projected cost

Spotrac projects Brown’s value at a whopping $14.8 million per season. They predict that he will receive a four-year, $59.5 million deal. PFF has a lower projection of one year at $12 million. Over the Cap lists Brown’s actual value on the field at $7.2 million, though.

Verdict

If Brown costs anywhere near $12 million, never mind nearly $15 million, the Jets should take a hard pass. Brown’s projection seems to be solely based on his name recognition rather than his recent production on the field.

Consider some other free agents whose best season came two or three years ago. Curtis Samuel (851 yards in 2020), Darnell Mooney (1,055 in 2021), Tyler Boyd (1,046 in 2019), Gabe Davis (835 in 2022), and D.J. Chark (1,008 in 2019) all have that one year when they produced. None of them are expected to make much more than $9-10 million per season. The only explanation for this projection is Brown’s former first-round pedigree.

However, if the projections are wildly off and Brown dips into the $8 million range, it may be worthwhile for the Jets to show some interest. He is one season removed from 709 yards in 12 games, which would translate to 1,004 yards over a 17-game season. While it may be unrealistic to expect Brown to play all 17 games, he’s still proven he can be reasonably productive. Better quarterback play should also play a role.

Still, Jets fans should be wary of viewing Brown as a top-tier option worthy of a double-digit APY. He is coming off the worst season of his career and has deficiencies in his play. The Dalvin Cook experience should be instructive about falling for a player’s name vs. the value he actually brings on the field.

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mlesko73
mlesko73
2 months ago

Brown scares me, I know from experience of picking him for my fantasy team on occasion (stuck with little money and in need of a WR) that he can be flat-out invisible for entire games.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a Lazard backer (he hopefully is better with AR tossing the ball), but I’m hoping for Gabe Davis or Tyler Boyd.

Last edited 2 months ago by mlesko73
Jets71
Jets71
2 months ago

I agree… not at the projected price but as you pointed out in your breakdown, there were deep shots to be had if the QB could connect. This convo would be a bit different even if they connected for a couple more of those plays.

He’s got speed, and and can “take the top” off a defense, to me, that’s a perfect player opposite Garrett. Someone who will beat 1v1 coverage deep so they can’t completely leave that CB on an island, should help take some coverage away from Garrett. That’s what they really need.

I know we are Jets fans so we are scarred into thinking we need 10 starting caliber OL’s, two #1 WR’s and the list goes on but that just doesn’t happen. At some point these players get paid, so while it’s great they didn’t get a guy because he got paid too much eventually you’re left with mediocre guys.

These breakdowns are great but all players have good and bad. I hope they don’t pay $14m for this guy but I do think he can help the team win.

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