A.J. Brown was faced with a decision coming out of high school that most other prospects did not.
He was a highly-touted recruit in football and baseball, committing to the University of Mississippi for both sports. And to make matters more complicated, the San Diego Padres drafted him in the 19th round of the 2016 MLB Draft, months before he played a collegiate game.
Brown ultimately chose to sign with the Padres, forfeiting his college baseball eligibility, but his three seasons playing wide receiver at Ole Miss afforded him another opportunity to become a professional athlete. Now, many analysts believe he'll be chosen in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
“My first love was baseball,” Brown said during his press conference at the NFL Combine. “But when I started playing football in high school it started to shift. So, I was full force for football.”
Playing baseball has helped Brown develop on the football field. Brown was a center fielder in high school, which helped him with being able to read the ball in the air and cover large areas of the field at once. Being a hitter also helped Brown develop, as the explosive acceleration needed in order to get out of the box quickly in baseball is similar to the start of a play for a wide receiver.
“I was a hitter,” Brown said. “I was a triple guy. I hit bombs all the time.”
Brown deciding to play football over baseball is one that he will likely not regret. In his three years with the Ole Miss Rebels, Brown set many school records and was named first-team All-SEC twice in his career. In 2018, Brown set single-season school records at Ole Miss, by hauling in 85 receptions for 1,320 yards.
In 2017, Brown tied the single-season record for Ole Miss, with 11 touchdown catches, finishing his collegiate career with 189 catches for 2,984 yards and 19 touchdowns. His 2,984 receiving yards is a career record at Ole Miss, and he ranks third and fifth in receptions and touchdowns, respectively.
According to Kyle Crabbs of the Draft Network, “Brown projects as a powerful slot receiver who can be leaned on as a chain moving target in the middle of the field. Brown doesn't have the short area quickness to play in more leveraged situations on the boundary, but his hands, contested catch ability and run after catch strength can shine brightly if he's implemented between the numbers with consistency.”
Choosing football over baseball wasn't the only tough decision that Brown had to make in high school. As a four-star recruit, Brown was highly touted and recruited by many top-level programs. Brown ultimately chose Ole Miss over Alabama, Auburn and his hometown Mississippi State. Brown is from Starkville, Miss., which is where Mississippi State is located. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are contentious rivals, and many Mississippi State fans were not happy with Brown’s decision to attend Ole Miss.
“It's really dumb to me, to be honest,” Brown said. “Like, just a kid going and following his dreams. What if it was the other way around and it was your son wanted to do this and he was getting the same treatment? How would you feel? It's just stupid to me.”
Take a look at photos from Friday March 2, 2019 at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine. Photos from NFL.
A big reason for Brown’s college success was his versatility. Brown lined up all over the field for Ole Miss, showcasing his ability in the slot and the outside. Brown was able to create matchup problems wherever he played, due to the combination of his athleticism and ability to go up and get the ball. When lined up in the slot, Brown’s 4.49 40-yard dash speed was too much for linebackers to handle, and safeties struggled to take him down once he had the ball.
Due to their physical comparisons, Brown has watched a lot of film of Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. Brown has said that he tries to model some of his game after him as much as possible.
“I mean, Julio's different,” Brown said. “He's another guy that's -- he's just blessed. He's blessed with natural ability and, I mean, you can use him any way. The way they used him is great honestly. Sometimes he's a decoy. He's a huge threat. You've got to recognize him every play on the field.”