PHILADELPHIA — Shortly after acquiring wide receiver AJ 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 Brown’s film together during draft prep.
“I think we were halfway through the first game and Nick [stood up] and went, ‘I’m fine. Do you need anything ? I’m going to get something to eat,” Roseman said with a laugh. “And I say, ‘Can you sit down? Can we finish this?’ And he said, ‘I will. But I know this guy.'”
As offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, Sirianni saw Brown twice a year when they faced the division-rival Titans, including in November 2020, when Brown had four catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. and added a TD kick return.
Sirianni kept coming back to size and strength when describing what he loves about Brown, who checks in at 6-foot-1 and 226 pounds. He mentioned that the 6-foot-6, 340-pound Brown and Jordan Davis, who the Eagles drafted 13th overall on Thursday, would make an intimidating duo as the first off the bus on game day.
This contrasts with the 6-foot, 170-pound DeVonta Smith, affectionately known as the Slim Reaper. They bring different skill sets to the table, which is a big reason Sirianni is excited about the pair.
“It’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 game strength. He’s one of the strongest receivers in the NFL.
“There’s a lot of different things that because of his skill, because of that strength of play, because of that body quickness that he has, and then the biggest asset that he has…this guy catches it all We can see that on a lot of different routes that fit our offense that uses that strength of play, that uses that speed You want guys that can win one-on-one games, and this guy has shown in the NFL that he would win head-to-head games.”
Quarterback Jalen Hurts and Brown are friends. About a week before the draft, Hurts posted a photo on Instagram of him and Brown working together in the field. One thing Hurts lacked last season was a bigger receiver who can operate consistently down 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 receiver. But the rest of the receiver image was still fragile, with Jalen Reagor struggling to find his footing and Quez Watkins a promising but unproven 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, to no avail. Despite being just 24, Brown has a Pro Bowl nod and a pair of 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, the type of proven production they were looking for.
Additionally, they believe Brown can help protect Smith and the offense from a major second crisis.
“I saw it with my own eyes with [Chargers receiver] Keenan Allen, he was a bit behind from Year 1 to Year 2 because the defenses were affecting him a bit more. Well, that’s going to make it a lot harder for defenses with a proven product like AJ Brown on the other side of him,” said Sirianni, who was the Chargers’ receivers coach in 2016-17. “I think most certainly it helps our passing game, it helps DeVonta. It’s just good for the Eagles.”
Moving is not without risk. Philadelphia gave Brown a four-year, $100 million extension, with $57 million guaranteed. Brown suffered multiple injuries last year, which led to career lows in receiving yards (869) and touchdowns (5). They gave up significant financial and recruiting resources to land him – something Roseman seemed opposed to just a week ago.
But Philadelphia saw a yin to the yang in Smith, someone who has a lifelong relationship with his QB and a player who could go on offense smoothly.
“Coach has a vision. He has a vision of what we’re going to look like offensively,” Roseman said, “and this guy was a perfect fit for us.”