Entering the 2019 NFL Draft, there are two wide receivers that I consider to be in the top tier of this class. In my recent RB rankings, I put 4 players in the top tier. In contrast, there were only 2 WRs who distinguished themselves above all others at the position. Those players are A.J. Brown and N’Keal Harry.
Before we compare those two head-to-head, let’s get to know them a little better.
A.J. Brown – Ole Miss
A.J. Brown just completed his junior season at Ole Miss. While there were other talented weapons there at the same time (i.e. D.K. Metcalf), it was Brown who demonstrated the most game to game consistency. That may be partially due to the fact that Brown played a lot in the slot, especially when Metcalf was healthy. However, whenever Metcalf missed time, Brown moved to the outside with success.
N’Keal Harry – Arizona State
Similarly to Brown, N’Keal Harry is also coming to the NFL after his junior season. Furthermore, Harry spent significant time in the slot. However, unlike Brown, Harry was moved around during games. In addition to slot work, he regularly lined up outside and was also used in motion. Harry was clearly the most talented receiver on his team. Unlike with the talent surrounding Brown, defenses could key in on Harry much more easily. Regardless, he was still able to produce.
Now, for a side by side comparison of these 2 players.
Player Profiler showcases several metrics that are deemed important for fantasy football purposes. Two of these statistics are Dominator Rating and Breakout Age. The Dominator Rating is defined as the percentage of a team’s receiving yards and touchdowns that were accounted for by a particular receiver. Breakout Age is defined as the age at which a receiver first achieved a 20% or more Dominator rating.
Looking at both of those metrics, N’Keal Harry appears to be the superior prospect. He had a higher Dominator Rating and had a younger Breakout Age than A.J. Brown. In those regards, Harry came in at the 88th and 95 percentile respectively for WRs in this class.
There are other metrics to look at including a player’s athletic testing numbers. Brown has the faster 40-yard dash time at 4.49 (compared to Harry’s at 4.53). However, when adjusted for weight, they essentially have the same speed score (109.8 for Harry vs 109.7 for Brown).
Next, there is the Burst score, which takes the vertical and broad jump measurements and adjusts them for weight. Harry has an edge in this regard with a score of 126.5 as compared to 122.1 for Brown. Harry also has a better catch radius (10.19 to 10.08 for Brown). The one area where Brown has an advantage is in his agility time in which he beats Harry 11.25 to 11.33. What helps Brown is the fact that the agility score might be arguably the most important athletic measurement when evaluating a receiver.
For an overall look at a player’s athletic profile, I like to use the SPARQx score. SPARQ stands for speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness. Harry has one of the best SPARQx scores in the class with 134.5 (98th percentile), while Brown’s is pretty good as well at 119.5 (87th percentile). Still, from the metrics perspective, Harry has an edge over Brown.
While this exercise was meant to distinguish Brown from Harry, my first instinct watching their tape was how similar these players were. Both receivers excelled against zone coverages, finding soft spots in the middle of secondaries. However, Brown and Harry both had their struggles against man coverage. There were times where neither receiver could get separation under tight coverage. Occasionally they were each able to gain some separation, especially Brown who uses his agility to break loose of tight coverage at the top of routes. Both WRs appear to be better positioned in the slot where they will likely face more zone coverages.
While both players struggled to consistently gain separation, this allowed them to showcase an important ability: contested catches. This is where they begin to differentiate themselves. Harry is excellent at high pointing the football by using jumping ability and his soft hands. Brown meanwhile, demonstrates what Matt Waldman calls integrated technique to make contested catches. As Waldman explains it, Brown has all of the technical aspects of catching a football down. However, game situations can be difficult to simulate. Therefore, players need to decide which technical aspects to utilize in the moment. Brown does a great job of finding a way to make catches, even if it’s not pretty. My only concern with his receiving ability is the number of times Brown allows the ball to fall into his body, instead of plucking it with his hands.
The one aspect to Harry’s game that is truly impressive, is his ability to gain yards after the catch (YAC). Once the ball is in his hands, Harry operates like a kick returner by setting up blocks and finding extra space to run. My main concern is when Harry does a full field reverse to get extra yards. While that may have worked in college, he could easily lose yards, and a coach’s trust, at the NFL level. For his part, Brown is also pretty good at getting YAC. This is just a category that Harry has an edge (however small it may be) over Brown.
The deciding factor in the Brown vs Harry debate might be their roles in their respective NFL offenses. As I mentioned earlier, bother receivers are better against zone defenses then they are against man. That would likely mean more success can be found in the slot for both players, as opposed to lined up on the outside.
The numbers point me towards N’Keal Harry being slightly better than A.J. Brown. With the game tape being so similar, that is the order in which I would draft them for fantasy football, as long as the landing spots are similar. However, if one of them should be placed in the slot while the other gets a role primarily on the outside, they are close enough that I would favor the slot receiver.
I ran a twitter poll the other day. Let’s see what you all have to say about this debate.
Which rookie WR would you rather have in fantasy football?
— Full Press Fantasy Sports (@FPC_FF) April 22, 2019
I was expecting this vote to be much closer. But the people have spoken, and with 64% of the votes, A.J. Brown is the preferred WR prospect right now. While I have Hary at #1 in my WR rankings, Brown is right there at #2. It will be fun to watch both of their rookie seasons and careers beyond that. Perhaps this debate is something that we shall revisit in the future.
Thank you for reading this player comparison on A.J. Brown and N’Keal Harry. Full Press Coverage has a wide variety of great NFL content to prepare you for the draft. Be sure to stay connected to FPC during the 2019 NFL Draft.