Justin Jefferson vs A.J Brown
‘I’m a fan, no lie. You doing 1400 yards is great. But you getting like 10 targets a game. Give me 10 targets.’ - Brown about Jefferson.
This may have been a throw-away comment during their back and forth interview, but hey, it got me thinking, is that statement even true? Both had fantastic seasons on a personal level. Jefferson not only broke Randy Moss’ Viking rookie record (1313 yards from 1998) for receiving yards but also set the record for yards by any rookie….ever, beating Anquan Boldin’s 2003 total of 1377. A.J Brown on the other hand, started slowly with a knee injury which knocked him out of two games early in the season. An injury which he has now stated should have ended his season, so to go on and hit the final numbers he did (1075 yards with 11 touchdowns) is quite an achievement. I am going to break down some key stats into three main categories; receptions per game, yards per game, and the one that is one that got this all started, targets per game.
Average Receptions per Game- Jefferson- 5.5 / A.J Brown- 5
So the first stat we’ll dive into here is the receptions per game. As we can see they are very similar with Jefferson only a .5 better off. Obviously, we have broken down these numbers using the averages from Jefferson’s sixteen games and Brown’s fourteen. As with most wide receivers, their numbers could fluctuate. Brown had a low of one reception in the Titan's first meeting with the Indianapolis Colts in week ten, Jefferson’s low of the season came, unsurprisingly for a rookie without any pre-season, in week one against the Green Bay Packers, where he had a total of two catches. Amazingly for a player in their first season in the NFL, this was the only game he had less than three catches in the whole season. At the opposite end of the scale, Jefferson’s high was nine, a total which is managed to reach three times, against Atlanta in week six, week twelve against Jacksonville, and in the season finale versus Detroit. A.J Brown took the title (between these two anyway) for the highest number of catches in a single game with a ten-catch game coming in the vital week seventeen game against the Houston Texans where the last catch of the game and for Brown set up a game-sealing field goal. So those are the key stats and below we can see a more in-depth breakdown.
Average Yards per Game- Jefferson- 87.5 / A.J Brown- 76.8
We have heard about the catches, but how about the yards attached to those catches? Well as we can see below, Jefferson had an average of 87.5 yards per game which was good enough for a league-wide 6th best finish, only Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Travis Kelce, Calvin Ridley, and DeAndre Hopkins finished high than the rookie out of LSU, a pretty special group of players to be part of I’m sure you would agree? A.J Brown meanwhile finished 14th on the table which is still a good finish from a player who plays for a strong run-first team. Jefferson’s low came during a one-point loss against the Seattle Seahawks where he hauled in three of five targets for twenty-three yards. A.J Brown hit his low of twenty-one from one catch during a week ten loss to the Colts. His catch in that one came on the opening drive and was from four targets. That’s the disappointing stats out of the way, Jefferson and Brown had many ‘boom’ games but their top performances were pretty special. Brown hit a season-high of a one hundred and fifty-three-yard eight-catch game in a week seven loss while playing the Steelers which was actually two yards more than a game mentioned earlier on against the Texans. Surprisingly for a rookie, Jefferson’s explosion onto the scene came early in the season (week three) as he caught seven of nine targets for one hundred and seventy-five yards fittingly enough while competing against the other player mentioned in this article….A.J Brown.
Average Targets per Game- Jefferson- 7.8 / A.J Brown- 7.6
Finally, onto the key point to this article, was Brown’s accusation that much of an overestimation or was there some substance behind it? Well Jefferson, as one would expect, had more targets during the season as he played two games more, playing sixteen games with one hundred and twenty-five compared to Brown’s one hundred and six in fourteen games. As we can see above, actually the averages per game are very similar, almost too close to putting any real separation between them. Jefferson had a low of three targets in two games. They came back to back in the first two weeks of the season; you could say this was the unofficial pre-season for everyone, but especially for rookies like Jefferson. A.J’s season-low came in the same game as we mentioned earlier, that loss to the Colts where he ‘only’ had four targets. This first glance at the statistics is not a good look for Brown’s statement. Highs next, Brown came up clutch for Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans in the final game of the regular season against Houston making the most of his eleven targets.
This part of the comparison does seem to indicate Brown may have a point, Jefferson had seven games with double-digit targets topped by a thirteen-target game versus Carolina Panthers in a week eleven’s one-point home victory.
We can interpret these figures in a few different ways. Firstly Brown seems justified as looking at the above table we can see Jefferson finished the regular season seven to ten catch games to Brown’s one. Jefferson obviously had fellow wide receiver Adam Thielen and running back Dalvin Cook to content with but finished out the season with five of his last six games ended with double-digit targets. If we look further into the figures, however, we can see that Jefferson’s targets were fairly uneven without the end-of-season explosion of targets. Brown had a fairly constant target share. As we can see from the table Brown never had fewer than four in his fourteen games. Most of his targets per game were between seven and eleven so as such were more consistent. Both seasons were excellent, Brown did have a point with his throw-away comment however it was probably a bit unfair when looking at the consistency between the two pro bowl caliber wide receivers.