America, it's time to get to know John Brown.
You probably already know a John Brown. It seems like a common enough name, after all. But the John Brown who happens to be a rookie wide receiver on the Arizona Cardinals is hardly a common talent.
On Saturday, Brown was thrust into a prominent role for the Cardinals in their preseason opener against the Houston Texans, as Michael Floyd missed the game due to a groin injury. Brown responded in a big way, catching five passes for 87 yards on 10 targets and turning a lot of heads in the process.
Perhaps practicing against such a talented secondary helped to up his game, as he indicated in his postgame comments to The Associated Press, via ESPN:
Brown said it was a relief going against a defense other than the strong Cardinals' team he goes against in practice.
'The game was kind of easy,' he said, 'because going against the best every day, it makes it more relaxing out on the field.'
That quote will play well in the Arizona locker room.
More importantly, Brown looks like a player who will play quite well on Sundays. As Ryan Lownes of Bleacher Report noted, Brown's impact in his first preseason showing could easily translate to the regular season:
Logan Thomas generating a lot of excitement tonight, but WR John Brown is the rookie I really think will make an immediate impact. #BirdGang— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) August 10, 2014
Both Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated and Ian Kenyon of B/R were left gushing over the kid:
TY Hilton clone RT @SI_DougFarrar Cards rookie WR John Brown is going to make a difference in that offense. Perfect fit in Arians' system.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) August 10, 2014
That's high praise. For those who have been paying attention to the Cardinals training camp to this point, however, it hardly comes as a surprise. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, for instance, has been hearing even more effusive praise than the tribute Kenyon paid to Brown:
I see John Brown lived up to what I saw when I was in Arizona. They were comparing him to Marvin Harrison there.— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) August 10, 2014
Everyone's whipped into a frenzy over this kid, it seems. Comparisons to future Hall of Famers might be a bit premature, though.
After all, we don't entirely know what Brown's role will be in the Cardinals offense just yet. Floyd's injury doesn't appear to be terribly serious, and all indications are that he is in line for a big season. With Larry Fitzgerald on the roster, it's hard to envision a scenario where Brown cracks the starting lineup.
Who will be Arizona's No. 3 receiver this season?
But the No. 3 spot at the position is up for grabs after Andre Roberts departed this offseason. It would appear that Brown will be competing against Ted Ginn Jr. for that place on the pecking order, and if early returns are any indication, he might just have a leg up on that positional battle.
In today's NFL, there is plenty of production to go around for No. 3 receivers. Brown could be a very deep sleeper worth paying attention to for fantasy owners.
Unfortunately for Brown, his competition for receptions will go well beyond just the wide receivers. The team has a dynamic running back in Andre Ellington that seems likely to play an even bigger role in the passing game this season.
Ellington, who finished his rookie year with 652 rushing yards, 39 receptions for an additional 371 yards and four total touchdowns, figures to play an even bigger part in the game plan from week to week this year. But given his slight frame—he's 5'9" and about 200 pounds—it's hard to imagine he'll be given 20-25 carries per game.
Instead, the Cardinals will likely find ways to get him in space, where his speed and quickness make him a touchdown waiting to happen. To do so, they'll almost assuredly make him a bigger part of the passing game and even split him out and work him in the slot, the role that Brown seems likely to play when he's in the game.
Arians has suggested as much, per Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:
Arians said Ellington could be a starting wide receiver on a team if that had been his chosen position. Ellington can get the ball out of the backfield through handoff, toss or swing pass. He can work out of the slot and he can line up wide. His first crucial opportunity with the Cardinals, in fact, was on a wheel route against the Rams in the 2013 season-opener, a play that had it connected (it did not) would have won the game.
'It’s fun creating things with a player like him,' Arians said.
Added starting quarterback Carson Palmer, per Urban's post:
He’s so explosive, he’s so quick and then you want to put him in the pass game because he’s so good in the pass game. It’s so hard to predict, ‘He’ll have x amount of yards, x amount of catches’ because he is so talented in both. Selfishly I want to use him in the pass game but selfishly I want to use him in the run game too.
From a fantasy perspective, Ellington's expanded role in the passing game is problematic for Brown. Fitzgerald and Floyd are going to be getting the lion's share of the targets—they combined for 248 targets a year ago—so Brown's usage was always going to be an issue if the two incumbents stayed healthy.
Add in Ellington's expanded role in the passing game, the fact that Brown is still a rookie and the possibility that Ginn will win the battle for the No. 3 spot at receiver, and fantasy owners would be wise to temper their expectations this season.
In dynasty leagues, he's a smart sleeper buy. In really deep redraft leagues, you can take a waiver on him in the later rounds if you don't mind selecting a lottery ticket. But in standard leagues, you would be wise to see how his role shakes out as the preseason continues.
Brown looks like a player who could really do big things in the NFL. It's just hard to imagine him making a major splash in fantasy football this year.