OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi’s A.J. Brown is used to people having strong opinions about him.
That’s what happens in the Magnolia State after a prized recruit chooses to play football at Ole Miss despite growing up just a few miles from rival Mississippi State’s campus. His sophomore season showed why there is so much buzz — the bruising 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior caught 75 passes for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Now the rest of the football world is forming its own opinion about Brown — and it’s largely a good one. He was named a first-team AP Preseason All-American earlier this week and is widely considered a potential NFL first-round pick next spring.
“It’s surreal, because that’s what you want. Everybody wants that,” Brown said. “Now that you have it, you set the bar high for yourself.”
Brown is the centerpiece of an Ole Miss offense that’s expected to have a very good season. The Rebels have plenty of issues — including a suspect, inexperienced defense — but scoring points shouldn’t be among them.
Ole Miss has several talented receivers, including Brown, DaMarkus Lodge, D.K. Metcalf and tight end Dawson Knox. Lodge had 698 yards receiving while Metcalf had 646 in 2017. They both caught seven touchdown passes.
Even after Van Jefferson transferred to Florida in the offseason, it’s a formidable group.
“They all want the ball every snap but it’s fun to see when one of them catches the touchdown, the other two chasing after them to celebrate and them pushing each other to be better,” Luke said. “So I think that’s a unique blend of guys that have that swagger but they also pull for each other.”
While Ole Miss has established that several receivers can get the job done, it’s Brown who has already carved a special place in program lore. Part of the reason is because he’s stayed with the program despite having the opportunity to transfer after the Rebels were slapped with a two-year postseason ban because of NCAA rules violations.
Others like Jefferson and quarterback Shea Patterson, who went to Michigan , chose to leave.
But Brown is also appreciated because he’s just so good and often rises to the occasion. He returned to Starkville for last year’s Egg Bowl and caught six passes for 167 yards and a touchdown, helping Ole Miss top Mississippi State 31-28 in an upset win.
Brown will undoubtedly be a marked man this season, but the good news is he’s surrounded by talent. The offensive line is filled with veterans and anchored by left tackle Greg Little, who was a second-team AP Preseason All-American.
Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu also returns after replacing the injured Patterson in the middle of last season. The senior competed 66.5 percent of his passes for 1,682 yards and 11 touchdowns in his limited action in 2017, inspiring confidence that those numbers could soar with more playing time.
Brown — while always confident — is appreciative of the help.
“All the accolades are cool, but it’s not about me because I don’t go out there and play by myself,” Brown said. “I don’t throw the ball to myself.”