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91 players in 91 days: Wide receiver John Brown

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Buffalo’s top 2019 receiver slides down a notch after a career year

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2018 offseason, the Buffalo Bills pursued wide receiver John Brown, who was a free agent after four years as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. When the team reached out to Brown, the receiver did not want to come to Buffalo thanks to the team’s quarterback situation. Buffalo had just dealt starter Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns, and the only quarterback on the roster at the start of the “legal tampering period” was Nathan Peterman.

Brown knew the Bills would be in the market for a new quarterback, so he chose to sign with the Baltimore Ravens instead, as they had a settled veteran in Joe Flacco at the helm. Little did Brown know that Flacco would lose his starting job after an injury, and with rookie Lamar Jackson as the starting quarterback, Brown was essentially phased out of the offense.

Exactly one year after he spurned the Bills to sign with the Ravens, Brown signed a contract with Buffalo. In today’s installment of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile the man they call “Smoke.”


Name: John Brown
Number: 15
Position: WR
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 178 lbs
Age: 30 (31 on 4/3/2021)
Experience/Draft: 7; selected by Arizona in the third round (No. 91 overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft
College: Pittsburgh State (KS)
Acquired: Signed with Bills on 3/13/19

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Brown signed a three-year deal worth a total of $27 million last offseason, of which $11.7 million is guaranteed. For the 2020 season, Brown has the fifth-highest cap hit on the team at $9,718,750. That number is also the third-highest of Buffalo’s offensive players and the second-highest at his position on the team.

2019 Recap: Brown had a career year in his first season in Orchard Park. We can say that with full confidence because he set career-highs in targets (115), receptions (72), and receiving yards (1,060) while falling just one touchdown short (6) of his career high. Of Brown’s 72 receptions, 53 of them resulted in first downs. He added two rushing attempts for seven yards, and one completion for a 28-yard passing touchdown on Thanksgiving Day against the Dallas Cowboys. In Buffalo’s playoff loss to the Houston Texans, Brown threw another touchdown pass, this one to Josh Allen, to cap off Buffalo’s first drive. He caught four of eight targets for 50 yards in the game.

Positional outlook: With the addition of Stefon Diggs, Brown moves down a proverbial notch to the “WR2” designation. Between Diggs, Brown, and slot receiver Cole Beasley, Buffalo boasts one of the best receiving groups in the league. Rookies Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins will battle with returning players Nick Easley, Andre Roberts, Isaiah McKenzie, Robert Foster, and Duke Williams for the remaining roster spots.

2020 Offseason: Nothing new to report other than Brown’s disdain for Madden rankings.

2020 Season outlook: Diggs adds another mouth to feed for quarterback Josh Allen, but the rapport he showed with Brown last year should only grow stronger this year. I almost think that Brown’s numbers could be better in 2020 than they were in 2019 if only for the fact that he will draw CB2 rather than CB1. Brown showed last year that he is more than capable of corkscrewing top corners, but trying to cover him with second fiddles is almost unfair. He’s a great route runner with ridiculous agility and tremendous speed. John Brown is another in a long line of quality moves from general manager Brandon Beane.