John Brown enters the 2017 season claiming he is healthier and ready to contribute. How long he stays healthy is anybody’s guess. He missed the first two preseason games with a quad strain after having an offseason procedure to drain fluid from a cyst near his spine.
Last season, he missed almost the entire preseason with a concussion. He was struggling with leg soreness and fatigue for weeks when doctors discovered he has sickle cell trait, to which they attributed his symptoms. To Brown’s credit, he wants to continue playing football despite his diagnosis.
When coach Bruce Arians vented about wide receiver injuries in training camp this season (there were five on the injury list at the time), Brown pushed back a little. He said he would not return to practice or play until he was completely healed. He did not want to risk further injury and added that he is “not like other players” when it comes to healing time.
It is not that uncommon anymore for players to protect themselves from injury. But the comment about not being like other players, factual or not, could also reveal that he is very wary of his sickle trait. It might be playing with his head.
Right now, Brown says he is healthy for the season opener in Detroit. When he finally got into a game this preseason, all he did was haul in two touchdown passes. On each, he exhibited the speed and quickness that makes NFL fantasy and Cardinals fans yearn for a full season of good health for the young receiver.
But… does it make him a must play?
Brown is just one year removed from a 1,000+ yard, seven-touchdown campaign. Even with the issues he had last year, he managed a 144-yard game against the Rams and a 30-yard touchdown against New Orleans. If he says he feels good, it is certainly tempting to start him.
There are a couple of big questions to answer first.
For instance, is he really healthy? The Cardinals say he is 90% with the quad injury. On the one hand, that’s not 100%. On the other, if he is only at 90% now, where was he two weeks ago when he burst down the field for those two touchdown passes?
The other question is what kind of playing time will he get? Brown fell back on the depth chart to WR3, behind Jaron Brown. The Cardinals use a lot of three wide receiver sets, so I don’t expect John Brown to be spending a lot of time on the sideline, but J. J. Nelson will also garner some playing time. Quarterback Carson Palmer also used his tight ends more in the preseason. Of course, David Johnson expects to take 1,000 yards worth of passes, too. How many targets will John Brown see?
And who is he playing against?
The Detroit Lions defense had a historically bad effort against passing offenses in 2016. They allowed an average QBR of 106.5. Is that good? Well, the top fantasy quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, had a QBR of 104. That’s right. The Lions made every quarterback who played against them look better than Aaron Rodgers.
On an even brighter note for John Brown, one of the worst areas of their awful pass defense was passing yards allowed to third receivers. Maybe John should be happy that Jaron is listed ahead of him on the depth chart.
Arguably, Detroit allowed those yards to third receivers by design in a “keep it in front of us” defensive style. Also, they infused their defense with more talent this offseason. It will not be as easy as it seemed for teams last season, but Palmer is still salivating at the thought.
So… is John Brown a must-play?
Absolutely not, though he is not a terrible play. He could easily rack up some yards against Detroit, but there are enough concerns to knock him off the must-play list. I would play Jaron in front of him until we see if John can run fast all game.
Better yet, play one of the other receivers in the same echelon, like the two on the other side of the field- Marvin Jones and Golden Tate.
John Brown is worth a risk if your options are limited, but he is not a must-play.
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