PHILADELPHIA — Not long after acquiring receiver A. J. Brown from the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night for the 18th and 101st overall picks in the NFL draft, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman told the story of the first time he and coach Nick Sirianni watched film of Brown together during the lead-up to the draft.
“I think we were halfway through the first game and Nick [stood up] and went, ‘I’m good. Do you guys need anything? I’m going to get something to eat,'” said Roseman with a laugh. “And I go, ‘Can you sit down? Can we finish this?’ And he goes, ‘I will. But I know this guy.'”
As the offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, Sirianni saw Brown twice a year when they played the division-rival Titans, including in November of 2020, when Brown had four catches for 98 yards and a touchdown and added a kick-return TD.
Sirianni kept coming back to size and strength when describing what he liked about Brown, who checks in at a rocked-up 6-foot-1, 226 pounds. He mentioned that Brown and the 6-foot-6, 340-pound jordan daviswhom the Eagles drafted 13th overall Thursday, would serve as an intimidating duo as the first ones off the bus on game day.
That stands in contrast to the 6-foot, 170-pound DeVonta Smith, affectionately known as Slim Reaper. They bring different skill sets to the table, which is a big reason Sirianni is excited about the pairing.
“That’s exactly what it is. It’s a good complement,” he said of Brown and Smith. “He’s a bigger guy with a lot of play strength. This is one of the strongest receivers in the NFL.
“There’s a lot of different things that because of his skill set, because of that play strength, because of that body quickness that he has, and then the biggest asset that he has… this guys catches everything. We can see him on a lot of different routes that fit our offense that uses that play strength, that uses that quickness.You want guys that can win one-on-one matchups, and this guy has shown in the NFL that he will win one-on-one matchups.”
Quarterback Jalen Hurts and Brown are friends. About a week before the draft, Hurts posted a picture on Instagram of he and Brown working out on the field together. One thing Hurts lacked last season was a bigger-bodied receiver who can operate consistently over the middle and create yards after the catch.
Brown ranked first in average YAC in 2019 (9.0) and eighth in 2020 (6.1) before dropping to 55th in that category last season (3.7), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Smith, the 10th overall pick in the 2021 draft, had a strong rookie season, leading the team in receptions (64), receiving yards (916) and receiving touchdowns (5).
The Eagles believe Smith has the talent to be a No. 1 wideout. But the rest of the receiver picture was still shaky, with Jalen Reagor having a tough time finding his jogging and Quez Watkins a promising but unknown NFL receiver. They tried to trade for Calvin Ridley before he was suspended for the season and also made an offer for free agent Christian Kirk, not available. Though just 24 years old, Brown has a Pro Bowl nod and a pair of 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, the type of proven production they were after.
What’s more, they believe Brown can help safeguard Smith and the offense from a significant sophomore slump.
“I saw it firsthand with [Chargers receiver] Keenan Allen, he had a little bit of a slip from Year 1 to Year 2 because defenses were keying on him a little bit more. Well, this is going to make that an awful lot harder for defenses to do with a proven commodity like AJ Brown on the opposite side of him,” said Sirianni, who was the Chargers’ receivers coach in 2016-17. “I think most definitely this helps our passing game, this helps DeVonta. It’s just good for the Eagles.”
The move isn’t without risk. Philadelphia handed Brown a four-year, $100 million extension that includes $57 million guaranteed. Brown dealt with multiple injuries last year, leading to career lows in receiving yards (869) and touchdowns (5). They gave up significant draft and financial resources to land him — something Roseman seemed to be averse to just a week ago.
But Philadelphia saw a yin to Smith’s yang, someone who has a standing relationship with their QB and a player who could transition into the offense smoothly.
“Coach has a vision. He has a vision for what we’re going to look like offensively,” said Roseman, “and this guy was just a good fit for us.”