Breaking down why Marquise Brown should be everyone’s mid-round target this year
Every year in fantasy drafts there are mid-round assets that make or break your fantasy team. Players that have enough concerns to knock them down from being an earlier pick but with enough upside to avoid being a late-round steal. These are plant-your-flag types of players.
I’m planting my flag on Baltimore’s Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
The last thing I want is more hype for the sophomore wide receiver, raising his ADP even higher. According to fantasysp.com, Brown was the 75th player off the board in May, the 70th player in June and the 56th player in July.
Brown will likely be a fourth or fifth-round pick when the fantasy draft season kicks into gear, trending dangerously high considering the depth at the position this year.
Good thing I don’t care.
Breakout seasons tend to be predictable for those who pay attention. Ultimately, evaluating wide receivers for fantasy comes down to three things — quarterback, scheme and target share.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was outstanding last season, winning the MVP award while guiding the team to a 14-2 record. Everyone saw how dynamic Jackson was on the ground, but what may have been lost on many was how dominant he was through the air. There are obvious indicators of his success, like how he led the league in passing touchdowns (36), adjusted quarterback rating (QBR of 81.8) and the fact that he threw just six interceptions. He was also third in passer rating with a terrific score of 113.3. Diving deeper, Jackson was even better. He had a passer rating of 118.5 when passing from a clean pocket (fourth best in the league). He was fifth in adjusted yards-per-attempt, showing that he didn’t just dump it down while still posting the sixth best accuracy grade according to PlayerProfiler.com. Jackson also tied Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins for the most touchdowns thrown on play-action plays (14), a staple of the offense.
But I imagine I don’t need to sell you on the reigning MVP. The scheme is where things get more interesting.
The 2019 Ravens were perfectly coached under offensive coordinator Greg Roman. He incorporated a healthy mix of RPO’s (run-pass options) to threaten the defense with Jackson’s speed. More notably, Jackson’s legs opened up the passing game. Seth Galina of Pro Football Focus wrote an in-depth analysis of the empty-set offense that the 2019 Ravens often ran. Empty set offenses have been trending up since quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees popularized it with their quick and accurate decision making. It often shows the defense’s hand quicker than other formations and spreads defenders accordingly with the offense’s formation, forgoing any attempt at disguised coverages. The system often involves an option-route for a receiver to run, either attacking over the top or punishing the cornerback on a drag or slant if the coverage is soft.
The 2019 Ravens revolutionized this concept. Jackson acted as the short threat despite being under center. His legs kept cornerbacks honest as they had to be ready to step to the scrambling MVP at any point. Look no further than Jackson’s performance against the seemingly impenetrable New England Patriots defense last year in Week nine. They ran a series of RPO’s to get downfield and then Jackson hit tight end Mark Andrews over the top for an 18-yard gain on a 3rd and five when the defense was forced to stack the box against the rushing quarterback. It wasn’t a prolific passing day for the Ravens, but that came as a result of 210 team rushing yards. Defenses in 2020 will seek to prevent that at the expense of their passing defense.
Simply put, the scheme allows for deep plays to come in bunches due to the threat the rushing game provides. Brown can thrive in that role as teams expect to play the run in 2020. Expect a lot of play-action to open up Brown in one-on-one situations, and few cornerbacks can cover the sheer speed and acceleration that Hollywood brings to the field. We saw that at times last season even when the receiver was notably injured. He posted four receptions for 147 yards and two touchdowns in Week one on just 18% of the snaps (31.7 fantasy points). After getting offseason surgery for his long-suffering Lisfranc injury, Brown should be able to be more explosive than ever in a system designed for deep threats like himself to thrive.
Finally, the target share. As mentioned, the Ravens run the ball quite a lot. They led the league in rushing attempts by a decent margin, largely due to Jackson’s 176 carries. Some may fade the passing options due to this but as already established, the rushing game actually causes the passing game to be more efficient should the pieces be talented enough.
The Seattle Seahawks ranked third in rushes, but due to the talent of quarterback Russell Wilson he was able to support two solid options in wide receivers Tyler Lockett (WR14) and rookie D.K. Metcalf (WR32). In Baltimore there is only one locked-in receiving option, and that’s the aforementioned Andrews at tight end. The team selected Brown in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft for a reason — his speed and general explosiveness was meant to complement their run-heavy system. Andrews will continue to work the middle of the field while Brown receives plenty of targets as the healthy No. 1 wide receiver for a reigning MVP. Passing volume will likely rise even as the offense remains run-centered simply due to positive regression, and Brown can see triple-digit targets in this offense.
It also helps that this offense will be high scoring. Leading the league in points per game in 2019 (31.9), the team will continue to provide touchdown upside to all the weapons therein. It never hurts to be a part of a productive offense.
With that much volume as a possibility paired with a skill set designed to be overly efficient with the work provided, Brown can be confidently drafted as a WR2 this season, hopefully at the price of a WR3. Sit back and enjoy the value.