1st Down: Targets
Through two games, John Brown leads the Bills with 18 targets, notching 10 in week one against the Jets, and another 8 in week two against the Giants. Cole Beasley is not too far behind, with a total of 13 targets. Zay Jones is third, with a mere 7. In the context of the Bills other receiving options, Brown has established a robust 30% target share percentage, which puts him within the top 20 wide receivers in the NFL for this statistic through two games.
Extrapolating Brown’s targets over the course of an entire season would give him 144, which would be his single-season career high. While the sample size is small, even if Brown’s target totals dipped from his current pace of 9 per game to 6.5 per game, his average would still equate to a new career high.
Brown has also has displayed excellent efficiency thus far in 2019, as evidenced by his 78% catch rate. Assuming the Bills continue to throw the ball about 25-30 times a game, Brown’s total targets and target share should not dip too much. It is abundantly clear that the Bills want to make their prized free agents, Brown and Beasley, the focal point of the passing game. As this season progresses, rookies like Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox may eat away slightly at some of those targets. However, Brown should continue to be centerpiece of the passing offense as the Bills clear WR1.
2nd Down: Receptions, Receiving Yards, and Efficiency
While it is great to see Josh Allen targeting John Brown, it is even more important that Brown is converting those targets into receptions at a high rate. Through two games Brown has 14 receptions on his 18 targets, for a total of 195 receiving yards. What I find most interesting about this trajectory is the trade-off in yards per reception in exchange for increased efficiency. 13.9 yards reception is nothing to complain about, but it would the second-lowest average of Brown’s career. Reading a bit deeper into the numbers, we also see that Brown’s yards per target is also on pace for a career high of 10.8.
So, what do these seemingly contradictory averages actually mean? Mathematically, it comes back to the story on efficiency. Brown is converting a higher percentage of his targets into catches. Using a simple example, Brown’s receiving yards (195), are the constant. If instead of 195 receiving yards on 18 targets, he had the same 195 receiving yards on 25 targets; his Y/Tgt would drop all the way to 7.8.
I do believe that as the season progresses, we may see Josh Allen take more truly deep shots to Brown (he missed a golden opportunity early in the Giants game), so his efficiency numbers may suffer slightly. As mentioned on our most recent The Bills Guys podcast with @JudgeMathes, the Bills will need to connect on a few of those deep, game changing, bombs as they start to face stiffer competition.
3rd Down: Game Impact
Now that we have covered Brown’s pure target and receiving totals, let’s take a deeper look as to how his play is actually affecting the overall game. Based purely on watching the first two games, I kept coming away with the feeling that Brown was making “important” catches when it mattered most in the game(s). One simple way to assess the impact of Brown’s performance is to take a look at how many of his receptions are resulting in first downs.
In total, 12 of Brown’s 14 receptions this season have resulted in first downs (85.7%). For players with at least 10 receptions, this number ranks T-3 in the NFL for first down catch percentage, trailing only Davante Adams of the Packers, and Chris Conley of the Jaguars. Brown also has more receptions (14) than both Adams (11) and Conley (10), cementing himself as one of the premier “first down makers” in the NFL through two weeks.
For the Bills specifically, Brown has been on the receiving end of arguably the two most important passing plays of their season thus far. Firstly, the game winning touchdown catch against the Jets in week one is still fresh on the minds of many Bills fans. Secondly, Brown was on the receiving end of a throw made on an incredible play by Josh Allen in the fourth quarter against the Giants. With Allen escaping multiple defenders, and rolling to his right, he found Brown for a beautiful 17 yard completion that resulted in a crucial 3rd down conversion. By converting on this play, the Bills were able to kill more clock on their way to an eventual game sealing touchdown run by Frank Gore.
4th Down: Career Look-back and 2019 Season Outlook
As his 6th NFL season gets underway, the Bills are hoping for 2019 to be a career year for John Brown. Brown spent his first four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, posting career highs in receptions (65), receiving yards (1,005), and receiving touchdowns (7) during the 2015 campaign. The Cardinals were one of the league’s best teams in 2015, as Carson Palmer led the team to a 13-3 record and a NFC championship game appearance.
Keeping in mind we are still very early in the season, but on his current pace, Brown would easily surpass his previous career highs in both receptions and yards. The obvious caveat here is that Brown is now the number one receiving option on the Bills, whereas he was the third option with the Cardinals back in 2015.
Projected out for an entire 16 games, Brown is on pace for 112 receptions and 1,560 receiving yards. Obviously, these numbers would put Brown near the top of the league in both statistics, so a regressed projection is likely more appropriate. Brown’s current catch rate of 78% would also be a career high, as his previous high mark of 64.4% also came in 2015. In 2018, Zay Jones led the Bills in receptions (56), receiving yards (652), and receiving touchdowns (7). At his current pace, Brown would essentially equal or surpass these totals (other than touchdowns) before the second half of the regular season.