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Deebo Samuel, AJ Brown: Why YAC ability is valuable but limited

A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel produced two of the best rookie seasons we at PFF have ever seen.

Brown, the Tennessee Titans’ 2019 second-round pick, caught 57-of-93 targets for 1,115 yards, 33 first downs and eight touchdowns across 461 routes this past season. His 80.9 PFF receiving grade and 2.42 yards per route run (YPRR) average rank eighth and third, respectively, among the 181 wideouts with 200-plus routes run in their debut NFL seasons in the PFF era (2006-present). And among the same group of receivers, Samuel ranks inside the top-25 in rookie PFF receiving grade (75.3) and tied for 14th in YPRR (2.06). The San Francisco 49ers’ second-round pick finished the season with 67 receptions from 94 targets for 929 yards, 37 first downs and three touchdowns across his 450 routes.

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Fellow rookie Terry McLaurin, the Washington Redskins’ 2019 third-round pick, produced one of the best rookie seasons of the PFF era, beating out both Brown and Samuel in PFF receiving grade (86.5) while averaging more than two yards per route run. McLaurin, however, won differently than Brown and Samuel. McLaurin’s production is largely a product of his ability to create separation before the catch and win downfield with high-end consistency. Brown and Samuel cut a bulk majority of their checks after the catch.

Fewer than 25% of McLaurin’s receiving yards came after the catch in 2019. Brown and Samuel both recorded more than 44% of their receiving yards after the catch. Samuel is the only NFL receiver who totaled more than 60% of his receiving yards after the catch and averaged over two yards per route run as a rookie over the past 14 seasons.

Among the 54 receivers with at least 50 receptions in their debut NFL seasons from 2006-19, Brown and Samuel rank first and second in yards after the catch per reception at 8.7 and 8.4, respectively. Samuel ranks first in forced missed tackles per reception (0.34) among the same group of receivers, and Brown ranks second at 0.32.

An even better indicator of Brown’s and Samuel’s success after the catch is how much the two outperformed yards per reception (YPR) expectations considering the average depth of their receptions.

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