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Player Spotlight: Antonio Brown

A detailed look at the fantasy prospects for Antonio Brown in 2016

Setting the Stage

Antonio Brown played football and ran track at Norland High School. Other notable alumni include Dwayne Bowe and Duke Johnson. Brown was a two-time state qualifier in the 100-meters and also anchored his school’s 4x100 relay team. He played running back, quarterback and wide receiver and was a two-time Class 6A all-state selection.

Following high school graduation, he applied to Florida State, but was denied based on academics. He attended one year at North Carolina Tech, a prep school. In 2007, he began attending Central Michigan as a walk-on player. He easily transitioned to full-time wide receiver and was granted a scholarship. As a freshman, he led the Mid-American Conference with 102 receptions for 1,003 yards and was named  Freshman of the Year. His best year was as a junior when he caught 110 passes for 1,198 yards. He was also their kick-off and punt returner and was named All-America as a punt returner in 2008 and 2009. He scored 5 touchdowns on returns, 22 receiving, 4 rushing and passed for one.
 
Following his third season, he declared for the 2010 NFL Draft. At the combine, he measured 5’-10” and 185 pounds and he ran a 4.48 second 40-yard dash. He was drafted in the sixth round by Pittsburgh. He began his career almost exclusively being used as a returner, but even in his rookie season he earned playing time toward the end of the season. When he got the call, he answered it. In the final five games of his rookie season, he had 17 targets and caught 14 passes.
 
He played a lot more often in his second season and had his first 100-yard game in week seven against Arizona. The following week, he scored his first receiving touchdown and wound up with three games with over 100 receiving yards and another three with over 80. He missed three games with injuries in his third year and saw a slight decline in catches and yards, but scored more.

Beginning in his fourth season in 2013, he topped 100 catches and has increased his receptions and receiving yardage in every year since 2012, scoring 38 touchdowns, including 31 in his last three seasons.

The following table provides career statistics.

Year Games Rushes Yards TDs Target Rec Yards ypc TDs
2010 9 0 0 0 19 16 167 10.4 0
2011 16 7 41 0 129 69 1,108 16.1 2
2012 13 7 24 0 106 66 787 11.9 5
2013 16 7 4 0 166 110 1,499 13.6 8
2014 16 4 13 0 181 129 1,698 13.2 13
2015 16 3 28 0 193 136 1,834 13.5 10
Totals 86 28 110 0 794 526 7,093 13.5 38

Looking Forward to 2016

Pittsburgh’s offensive line is ranked 13th overall by Matt Bitonti of Footballguys.com, a healthy upgrade from their ranking last year.  Last year they allowed only 33 sacks, which ranked them tied for 11th best, but that ranking might be questioned because Roethlisberger is strong that he can absorb hits and still get rid of the ball. What might be even more eye opening is that the Steelers ranked 2nd in quarterback hits allowed with only 58. The line was also good in the run game averaging 4.4 yards per rush, 8th best in the NFL.

Ben Roethlisberger might not have embraced Todd Haley at first, but that combo returns for their fifth season together. Roethlisberger has averaged 288 yards passing per game and 7.78 ypa over their four seasons together. The receiving corps will be a bit different this year as Heath Miller, his long time security blanket at tight end retired. They signed the talented, but underachieving free agent Ladarius Green as his replacement. Green has only caught 77 passes in four seasons backing up Antonio Gates in San Diego, but signed a four-year $20 Million contract, but had ankle surgery this off-season. The Steelers will also be without the services of Martavis Bryant, who is suspended all season. They do have Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates to provide support roles to Antonio Brown, but he will again be among the highest targeted wide receivers in the NFL.

Brown has been among the league leaders in targets, receptions and yardage for three years running and he has increased his production in each category for three consecutive seasons. With the Steelers missing their second best receiver for the entire year and Leveon Bell for the first four games, there is no reason to expect fewer targets, catches, or yards.

Positives

• Brown has a catch rate of over 70% over the past two seasons
• He is Roethlisberger’s favorite target by far
• Brown is known to be a diligent worker and has a stated quest for 150 receptions
 
Negatives

• Brown had his worse three games in games where Roethlisberger did not play
• Roethlisberger has missed games in 5 of the most recent 7 seasons
• Brown doesn’t score as often as other top NFL receivers, but has averaged just over 10 per year over the past three seasons

Projections

Name Games Rushes Yards TDs Catches Yards TDs
David Dodds 16 3 15 0 127 1,689 11
Bob Henry 16 3 20 0 128 1,700 10
Jason Wood 16 0 0 0 130 1,750 10
Maurile Tremblay 16 9 53 0 132 1,795 11
Stephen Holloway 16 4 20 0 140 1,876 12

Final thoughts

Antonio Brown is the almost consensus top pick in ppr scoring leagues, not just for wide receivers but for all players. He has an extremely high floor and is probably the safest early first round pick out there. In addition, he gets after it on every play and has an obvious joy for playing the game, like Hines Ward did earlier for the season.

Other’s Thoughts

Matt Waldman on his Footballguys.com Player Comments – Brown has all the components of a top-ranked fantasy option. He’s skilled enough to defeat top-shelf defenders one-on-one. He’s a high volume target and big-play weapon. He has a great rapport with a good, veteran quarterback. And Brown’s offensive line doesn’t limit the range and timing of the passing game. He has also been healthy throughout the offseason and entering his prime. There may be a few players with equal or greater upside, but it’s difficult to argue that there are safer options at the top of the board.

Jeremy Fowler on ESPN.com Antonio Brown’s quest for 150 catches is on, and it’s real”

Catching passes is Brown's love language. Brown now owns two of the NFL's four highest reception totals in a single season. After his 136-catch campaign in 2015, Brown has one player left to catch -- Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, the former Indianapolis Colts star who went for 143 receptions in 2002.

Jeff Tefertiller on his Footballguys.com Player Comments – While Brown is widely held as a top WR, the loss of Martavis Bryant and retirement of Heath Miller only add to the allure.