PHILADELPHIA — A.J. Brown says it matter-of-factly, as if the precision of his goal isn’t actually as unusual as it is.
“This offseason, I was hitting 23 miles per hour a couple of times, and that’s what I needed,” the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver said last week in a sit-down interview with Yahoo Sports. “The goal for me is to get in the best shape possible and to run my routes around 18, 19 miles per hour every single time.”
It’s a striking goal, not only because of the minuscule percentage of humans who could accelerate to 18-plus mph if they tried. It’s also striking because while NFL players are constantly seeking to hone their crafts, few define and measure their success so concretely.
But the Philadelphia Eagles’ Pro Bowl wide receiver spent his offseason doing just that: chasing measurable and actionable goals. Sure, his 1,496 yards marked a career best and a team-high production among skill players in a Super Bowl-berth season. Brown’s 11 touchdowns, too, tied his career high and tied running back Miles Sanders for the most scored by an Eagles player other than the quarterback.
But Brown sought to improve further, with his second year in Philadelphia’s system and his cleanest bill of health during an NFL offseason allowing him to better sync his body with his mind than in recent years. Brown teamed up with his college strength coach and longtime trainer, Joey Guarascio, to determine how best to achieve that.
Eagles coaches and teammates say they can see the results.
“It’s hard to say he’s getting quicker, but he is,” head coach Nick Sirianni said. “He’s in and out of his breaks quicker, which helps you create more separation, which is going to help you get more yards after the catch, which is going to help the quarterback throw you the ball more.
“He said something in the offseason, like, ‘Yeah, if I’m in great shape, I’m going to get more opportunities.’ He’s right.”
‘It’s like venom’: How Brown trained for quickness, not just speed
After a 2022 offseason regimen of training four days a week, Brown increased that schedule to five this year. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he mixed conditioning into a route- and release-heavy day. Brown devoted Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to speed and explosiveness training.
He cycled through hops and bounds, plyometric training and resistance sprints with sleds and chains, Guarascio said. The sled pushes aimed to hone acceleration angles. Top-speed work emphasized whether Brown’s legs were best positioned to strike down under his hips each time.
“Giving him small doses of high-speed running because it’s like venom — it’s so potent,” Guarascio told Yahoo Sports. “Just giving him those exposures in limited doses so that we can give him the ability that, OK, if he does catch a deep ball, he can separate.”
Each session, Guarascio was measuring data with Catapult GPS tracking. The goal was not simply to run as fast as possible.
Sirianni measures quickness by how a player transitions in and out of breaks, changes directions after running in a straight line or jabs at the line of scrimmage in a different direction. Guarascio, currently the head strength and conditioning coach at Florida Atlantic University, similarly discerns between the fastest a player can run in theory and the fastest a player can translate that ability to their craft.
Brown’s overall top speed was 1.6 mph faster than a year earlier, up from 22.1 mph to 23.7, Guarascio said. Brown also ran a fly-10 — a 10-yard dash after building speed, in this case for 20 yards — in 0.91 seconds, which translates to 22.48 mph over a distance he could realistically encounter in game scenarios. Brown’s average depth of target last season was 12.1 yards.
But Guarascio expands his players’ perspective on speed based on their responsibilities. For a receiver such as Brown, quickness isn’t only about how fast he can go.
“You want to run as fast as you can stop,” Guarascio said. “He’s capable of running 23 mph. But if he ran 23 mph and tried to run a dig route, he’s going to have to sacrifice in his cut and his plant. So the faster you can run while maintaining the ability to put the brakes on really separates people. Because not only are you able to threaten people with speed, especially in your releases, but then you’re also able to separate on your change of direction and your deceleration.”
With that framework, Guarascio and Brown determined at what maximum speed Brown could execute his route trees smoothly. For deeper routes, Guarascio said, they settled on 17 to 19 mph.
“If I have five plays, I’m not just trying to get through the five plays,” Brown said. “I’m trying to be effective the entire five plays. So I was just trying to learn the difference. Because I could easily get through five plays. But being effective play after play, what if you throw me the ball all five times?
“That’s the mindset I was trying to accomplish.”
Brown’s quickness translating at Eagles camp
At Eagles training camp, Brown’s speed and quickness have already begun to show in his plays. He references one play on which he burst past cornerback James Bradberry when Bradberry was “full, full, full running,” Brown said, “and I ran right by him.” (If that sounds like a boast, he shared it only after repeated questions and noted that he did not talk trash to Bradberry because “he knows. You don’t have to say it.”)
In the final first-team snap of team period during a practice last week, Brown similarly edged out fourth-round rookie cornerback Kelee Ringo on a 50-yard pass down the left sideline. Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson praised Brown’s hands as well as his adjustment.
Brown can adjust to throws more fluidly as he applies his understanding of his peak performance range to each play. The more he fine-tunes his quickness, the more intentionally he can separate from defenders and set up higher probability throws from quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Brown caught just 60.7% of throws intended for him last year, second-worst among the 10 Eagles who caught at least one reception. The volume of Brown’s team-high 145 targets and team-long 12.1-yard average depth of target contextualize that success rate but nonetheless point to an opportunity for improvement as the Eagles continue to trust Brown with riskier plays.
They know his physicality is impressive, with third-string quarterback Ian Book telling Yahoo Sports that the team shows younger receivers tape of Brown off the press and says: “You should just talk to A.J. about what he does because he’s pretty damn good at it.”
“He’s getting off releases. He’s winning one-on-one balls,” Book said. “They’re definitely not 50-50. They go in his favor big-time.”
Johnson also doesn’t underestimate the psychological factors that are influencing Brown’s quicker play. Route-running, chemistry with the quarterback and general offensive flow are “both parts art and science,” Johnson believes. Brown’s offseason speed work exemplified that science. Brown’s deeper understanding of the playbook and of Hurts’ tendencies — the two communicate at the line of scrimmage with a series of nonverbal signals and nods, Brown said — reflect the art.
The combination could prove lethal.
“When you have players like that, you want to be able to get them involved in a ton of different ways,” Hurts said. “He’s been working really hard.
“He looks great to me.”