Depth Chart Battle: A.J. Brown vs DeVonta Smith (Fantasy Football)
The Philadelphia Eagles were one of several teams that made a splash trade this year in an effort to improve their offense. They traded the second of their two first-round picks to Tennessee, along with a third-round pick for standout wide receiver, A.J. Brown. Interestingly enough, this was the second year in a row the Eagles made a Draft day trade to acquire a wide receiver. In 2021, they traded the 12th overall pick, along with a third-round choice, to the Dallas Cowboys for the 10th overall pick. The Eagles then used that pick to select Heisman Trophy winner, DeVonta Smith of Alabama. In 2021, both players had similar totals in receptions, yards, and touchdowns (Brown 63-869-5, Smith 64-916-5.) Now, we get to put the two wideouts under a microscope in order to determine which is the Philadelphia pass-catcher you want on your fantasy team in 2022.
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A.J. Brown (Underdog ADP 27.3, WR11)
After three seasons in Tennessee, Brown joins the Eagles with high expectations to help balance their offensive attack. The $100 million contract extension he signed with the team will attest to that. Philadelphia was a run-heavy offense in 2021 and led the league in rushing yards. This year, they clearly will be looking to improve their passing volume. In 2021, they had the fewest pass attempts in the league. Early buzz out of camp says quarterback Jalen Hurts has been targeting Brown heavily.
Brown’s health was a struggle last season, as he missed four games battling various injuries. Still, in just 13 games, he was able to top 100 targets for the second consecutive year. His 26.9% target share was seventh in the NFL, but playing in a run-heavy offense in Tennessee, Brown has never seen the volume often associated with top-12 fantasy receivers. Still, he has been efficient. His career average is 16.2 yards per reception. A threat to make a big play every time he touches the ball due to a combination of speed, size, and strength, Brown has tremendous weekly value. Last season, he had three games with eight or more receptions, 130+ yards, and a touchdown. He had ten catches of 20+ yards.
The Eagles, and fantasy managers alike, will be hoping Brown can recreate some of his scoring prowess from 2020 when he totaled 11 touchdowns in 14 games played. If the Eagles' passing offense is to improve, Hurts will need to throw more touchdowns than the 16 he threw in 2021. An increase in Brown’s five touchdown passes is a realistic outcome.
DeVonta Smith (Underdog ADP 71.8, WR35)
DeVonta Smith had an impressive rookie campaign that began with a touchdown in his NFL debut and ended with the fourth most receiving yards among rookies. However, it was a bit of a roller coaster along the way. Smith had six games with five or more receptions, as well as five games with two or fewer. His 22.1% target share led the Eagles in 2021, as did his impressive 88.8% route participation. It is hard to imagine those numbers increasing with Brown in town.
Smith utilized his excellent speed to establish himself as a deep threat. He caught 16 passes of 20+ yards tying him for 12th in the NFL. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Smith saw 14.8 air yards per target and held a 38.05% team air yard share, ranking him top 10 in both categories. He also recorded an impressive 1.85 yards per team pass attempt, per NFL Verse. If Brown takes the greater share of targets, as expected, it is quite possible Smith will see even deeper average targets.
In order to reach his ceiling in 2022, Smith, like Brown, will need to see an increase in touchdown receptions. He too stands to benefit from the team’s efforts to have a more balanced attack on offense. The Eagles already boast one of the league’s most talented offensive lines. Hopefully, they will afford Hurts the protection he needs to toss a few more scores.
Who should you draft?
Brown is currently being drafted as the 11th receiver off the board. In his first three seasons, he has had only one top-12 finish in fantasy points per game in half-PPR scoring. He is basically being drafted close to his ceiling. Smith, on the other hand, is being drafted 35th amongst receivers. This value has him as a backend WR3, which leaves him more room to return value on his ADP. If all goes well for Smith, it is reasonable to believe he could finish inside the top 24 in half-PPR leagues. Considering risk and reward, I recommend drafting Smith, despite expecting Brown to outscore him.