Antonio Brown: Lucky or Good?

For the last two years, the name Antonio Brown has been synonymous with Elite Talent. The stud wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers is a topic of conversation week in and week out. Have it be his epic game performance, the elaborate end zone dances, or a controversial locker room comment, AB seems destined for the spotlight. But, what about his statistical performances? Well, to put into perspective just how dominant he has been, let’s take a look at his numbers since entering the league in 2010. In his rookie campaign, Brown had 16/167/0 in nine games, by all means, a lackluster showing. Since that slow start, Brown has been virtually unstoppable! Antonio Brown’s talents demand the ball, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are happy to oblige. Brown has since amassed 925 targets and has turned those into 616/8,210/50. So, the questions have been asked, ” Is Brown really as good as his stats say, or only as good as his quarterback?”  and, “Will Brown be this good when Ben retires?” Well, let’s check the crystal ball and find out, shall we!

So, in order to evaluate the future, sometimes we need to look at the past. Over the course of his career, Brown has seen targets from four different QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, and Michael Vick and Charlie Batch. This is where the story gets interesting, and frankly, where the questions come from. If we look at the numbers, with Roethlisberger on the field, Brown has an average of 13.3 targets, 9.9 receptions, 133 yards and 0.8 touchdowns per game, fantastic stats by any comparison. If you watch a Steelers game, even without knowing the numbers you can see that Brown is Roethlisberger’s favorite target. “So that should just translate over, right?” Well, that answer is no. With the very small sample size that we have of other QB’s tossing the rock to Brown over the last four years (five games), we see that the numbers are drastically different. Without Roethlisberger at QB, Brown’s average stats are as follows: 7.8 targets, 4.3 receptions, 59 yards, and 0 touchdowns! You read that last part correctly, Antonio Brown has caught exactly ZERO touchdowns from a quarterback not named Ben Roethlisberger, in his entire career. That equates to roughly 42 targets and 24/341/0.

Well? Is Antonio Brown a generational talent or a fortunate byproduct of a pro bowl quarterback? My answer is simple, both. Why do we have to just assume that a player is either lucky or good? Can Antonio Brown’s statistics be a mixture of his phenomenal talent with a hint of great quarterback/system play? Just looking at the numbers can always be a little misleading. The eye test shows us the elusiveness, the football IQ, the vision and the unparalleled effort Brown possesses. I would also be remiss to not talk about the skill gap between Landry Jones or Micael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger. A wide receiver of Brown’s caliber almost always draws the top corner and is usually accompanied by some help from the safety position so it would be unfair to assume that a young quarterback would force feed his talented receiver amidst double coverage. With the decrease in targets comes the decrease in receptions and I probably don’t have to tell you that with fewer catches come fewer yards.

I know what you are still thinking, “What about the touchdowns?” Well, that can also be explained in a rather simple way. We will look at only the 2015 season for this bit. In 2015 Antonio Brown saw a total of 23 targets inside the red zone. He caught 16 and scored 8 touchdowns, but only one of those targets came from someone other than Roethlisberger. Landry Jones passed to Brown one time in the red zone for an incompletion. Brown is a dangerous red zone threat, and defensive coaches know this. It is not a surprise that as an offensive coordinator would use Brown as a decoy to save your young QB from forcing the mistake. So this could be a mixture of play calling and avoiding the coverage.

So what is the end result, will Antonio Brown remain a fantasy stud if Roethlisberger retires after the 2017 season? My opinion, yes. The Steelers have done a fantastic job of finding great quarterbacks to lead the charge, and I believe Brown has another 3-4 years to impress us on the field. Brown is a generational talent and whoever lands the starting quarterback job in Pittsburgh will find a way to put the ball in the vicinity of Antonio Brown, and if I’m right, Brown will find a way to do something special with it.

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