Eagles training camp 2022: A.J. Brown and the art of YAC

·4 min read

A.J. Brown and the art of stacking YAC originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

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

Through his first nine training camp practices as a member of the Eagles, that’s been pretty clear.

“I think anytime the ball’s in my hands it can be an explosive play,” Brown said on Tuesday. “That’s how I think.”

Since he entered the NFL as a second-round pick back in 2019, Brown is third in the league in catches of 40+ yards with 16 behind just Mike Williams and Stefon Diggs. And it’s not like all of them are deep balls.

An area where Brown has been consistently good is after the ball is in his hands. Yards after the catch have been a big part of his game in the NFL and the Eagles are banking on that in 2022.

“I think that is something that I do, the dog that’s in me,” Brown said. “After the catch, I think that just comes down to having heart. I’m not afraid. I play with no fear on the field.

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

We’ve already seen plenty of glimpses of that during training camp. Through nine practices, Jalen Hurts has thrown more passes to Brown than any of his other receivers by a long shot. And many of those passes have been on-time slants and other timing patterns that give Brown an opportunity to run through the catch.

One of the areas where Hurts needs to improve going into Year 3 is his accuracy and his ability to throw with anticipation. If he can, there will be a lot of opportunity for Brown to pick up a ton of YAC.

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

“He’s like 230 (pounds),” Hurts said. “He’s a big guy and he has very strong hands and he can run. He’s done it for a while now in the league, for three years. Hopefully he’ll continue to do it. I know he will.”

But it’s even more than size and want-to 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 every catch and making sure his feet stay on the ground, churning.

“Whenever my feet leave the ground, [the defender] has a step on me now and can come in and tackle. But if I keep both feet on the ground and I’m running. … I’m just giving away all my jewels,” said Brown, briefly interrupting himself. “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 some 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 splits based on catch point:

Deep (20+): 16 catches on 42 targets, 657 yards, 5 TD, 142 YAC (8.875)

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

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

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

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

The Eagles last season weren’t awful 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 mentions quite often that big plays in the passing game don’t have to come from deep shots.

“We know that's important to create explosive plays,” Sirianni said. “If you're one dimensional on how you create explosive plays, the defense is going to be able to stop that.”

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 loves the physical style with which Jones plays. In his three years in the NFL, Brown has broken 23 tackles.

“That’s just how I try to play the game,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a stiff-arm. It’s whatever I need to do to get by you. I’m not out here trying to juke the world. I’m trying to score touchdowns every time I get the ball. Whenever I get the ball, my mindset is run. That’s it. Run. Because whenever a guy stops his feel, I got him.”

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