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Back to the Future: Antonio Brown

Digging up comparables from the past to try to predict Antonio Brown's future.

Without the help of a flux capacitor or Dr. Emmett Brown, this series will attempt to take a look back in time to help us predict the future dynasty results of some of our current fantasy stars. This series has already touched on the third-year breakout with its evaluation of Dez Bryant but what happens when a third-year receiver doesn't break out. Or worse yet, what happens when after a promising second year a receiver actually goes backwards in fantasy production?

That's exactly what happened to Antonio Brown in 2013. In fairness to the Steeler's wide out he did miss three games due to injury, but even on a per game basis it is pretty evident that there was no breakout in 2013. Despite seeing an explosion in his touchdown rate, Brown averaged less than 1 fantasy point more per game in his third season. The question we want to answer to today is what that means for Brown's future. Do fourth year breakouts happen too? Let's get to the graph.

Admittedly this is one of the more discouraging graphs we've seen. Robert Meachem and Steve Breaston are not who the Steelers are hoping Brown turns into. Andre Reed on the other hand, they'd probably be okay with. While I think at this point in their careers most would argue that Brown's a much more talented receiver than Meachem or Breaston, at least a little bit of that is because we've already seen them flame out. Could the same be coming for Brown? Let's take a closer look at the comps, starting with Steve Breaston.

Like Antonio Brown, Breaston began his career primarily as a return man before working his way into the receiving rotation in year two. Breaston was the third receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for two seasons before Boldin left for Baltimore. In his fifth season Breaston followed Todd Haley to Kansas City and had one decent season there before his disastrous sixth campaign. That disaster of a season had very little to do with Breaston's talent and should not be construed as the end of Breaston's career. While he never developed into anything more than a solid third receiver, he's still much better than his numbers (or lack thereof) from 2012 suggest. Breaston also never had the opportunity to be the number one option that Brown now does.

Robert Meachem got that opportunity, and failed miserably. Meachem was a solid wide receiver for four season in New Orleans, even if he never matched his second season. In that second year, he averaged 16 yards a catch, scored 9 touchdowns, and finished as the 22nd ranked wide receiver in fantasy football. In 2012 he signed a four year deal with San Diego to replace Vincent Jackson and was an unmitigated disaster. He caught less than one pass a game on an offense that desperately needed someone to step up at the receiver position. He's still in San Diego and has a chance to turn things around, but it's pretty clear that he does not have what it takes to be a #1, does Brown?

One guy that did have what it takes is Andre Reed. The biggest difference we see in Reed's arc from the other three receivers is that he really hadn't had much variance in his first three seasons. In fact, at this point in his career, he hadn't scored more than 114 fantasy points or less than 93 in any season. There's a pretty good reason why a player of Reed's caliber got off to such a slow start. In his rookie season he had an atrocious combination of quarterbacks, in his second season he had Jim Kelly in Kelly's first season in the league, and in his third season he missed 4 games because of the strike. Reed was better in year four and outstanding in year five. he went on to have an up and down 16-year career that included three elite seasons. But his missed time brings up a good point, and that's fantasy points per game. Let's take a look at all four receivers in their first four seasons on a per game basis.

  Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
Reed 5.8 7.6 8.8 9.3
Breaston 0.6 7.4 6.3 6.3
Meachem 3.9 8.4 5.9 6.3
Brown 1.9 7.9 8.5 ???

On a per game basis, Brown actually looks more like Reed than anyone else the past two seasons. He also has the same opportunity in year four that Reed did. Does that mean he has a better chance of following Reed's arc?


Brown's size and skill set remind me more of Breaston than either Reed or Meachem, but he's getting a chance that Breaston never got. Even if Brown's size is closer to Breaston's he's considerably smaller than any of his comps and that concerns me with regard to him turning into a #1. He's not built like Andre Reed and he doesn't have Reed's skill set. Most importantly, he probably won't play on a passing offense as prolific as Buffalo's in the early 90s. Because he's not switching teams and he's already earned the trust of Ben Roethlisberger, I can't see a disaster on par with Meachem's in San Diego.

I don't believe Brown will ever put up WR1 numbers, but he's in a good position to match his second year in 2013. With a little more luck in the touchdown department he could even be a solid WR2. Brown is currently being drafted as the 24th receiver off the board and that's just about right. He could be a little better, but it's unlikely he'll be considerably better. With his age and situation, I'd call him a hold in dynasty as well. Brown isn't going to knock your socks off over the next few seasons, but he should be a solid player on your roster.