A former sixth round pick from Central Michigan University, Antonio Brown once toiled in obscurity. Now on the verge of becoming the number one receiver for the storied Pittsburgh Steelers franchise, he plans to seize the opportunity:
“If you want to be your best, you have to outwork your opponent. My opponent is not just someone I am competing against, but I am my biggest opponent,” Brown continued, “I know if I compete against myself every day I am working to be my best. That is something I always take pride in, working to better myself.”
Brown’s first breakthrough came in 2011, when he became the first player in the history of the NFL to rack up greater than 1000 yards receiving and returning in the same year. His efforts that season did not go unnoticed; his teammates voted him the Steelers’ MVP and the organization rewarded him with a five year, $42.5M extension.
Entering 2012, Brown looked to build on the success of his sophomore season. Unfortunately, he was plagued by an ankle injury that limited him to only thirteen games and hampered him in others. Extrapolating last year’s statistics over a full, sixteen-game season would have led to the following stat line:
2012 Season x 16 games
Considering the departure of Mike Wallace and the fact that Heath Miller is recovering from a torn ACL, I’m confident that Brown will have a career season. Ben Roethlisberger is more than capable as a passer, averaging over 270 passing yards per game over the past four seasons, and the Steelers aren’t exactly loaded with receiving talent. Brown should be a target hog as Roethlisberger’s go-to-guy. The biggest concern with Brown is that he may draw more coverage from opposing defenses due to the lack of established receiving threats around him.
While I do believe he will face tougher coverage, the increased usage should be great enough to more than offset that. Also, the Steelers ran the ball for only 3.7 yards-per-carry last season, their lowest mark since 2008. They drafted a running back, Le'Veon Bell, in the second round to provide a boost to their running game. Additionally, their first round draft pick from last season, David DeCastro, should be improved after fighting back from torn knee ligaments last preseason, which would be a boon to their offensive line. A stronger running game would keep defenses more honest and further open up the passing game.
As you can see from the extrapolations above, Brown’s per-game averages from last season would have projected to more than 81 receptions. With an increase in targets, it's not out of the question to see Brown post 90+ catches and set career highs across the board. He also still possesses the open-field ability that led to his 2011 Pro-Bowl selection as a returner. Now that he is back to 100% health, his yards-per-reception should rise back closer to his career average.
- Brown is extremely motivated to reach his potential
- As the unquestioned go-to-guy, he should see a spike in targets
- Injuries limited him last season and have attributed to him sliding under the radar
- An improved running game should open up the passing game
- Opposing defenses may key on Brown due to the lack of proven, complimentary receivers
- Pittsburgh does not have a backup quarterback capable of salvaging his value if Roethlisberger misses time
- An improved running game may result in less reliance on the passing game
When speaking with the Associated Press, a teammate of Brown's, Plaxico Burress, stated, “Antonio, I think, is going to one of the most feared receivers in the league this year.” While I’m not prepared to make that sort of claim myself, all signs point to a breakthrough season as a wide receiver for Brown and I’m all aboard. Not to mention, his current ADP of 68th overall represents very good value and places him in the 6th round of standard 12-team leagues.
DAVID DODDS’ PROJECTION
Bleacher Report's AFC North Lead Writer, Andrea Hangst wonders how the absence of Wallace will affect Brown...
As long as Brown remains a fast, physical, sure-handed receiver, he should adapt well to Wallace no longer being on the Steelers roster. He's very similar to Wallace in profile though he's actually a bit more versatile, thanks to his strong route running. The nature of Haley's offense also serves his talents better than Wallace.
Dustin Hockinsmith of PennLive.com examined the 2013 outlook of the Brown and the rest of the Steelers' receiving corps...
The emergence of Brown made the team's decision to separate with Wallace that much easier. Brown has compiled 1,895 receiving yards the last two seasons, including a 1,108-yard campaign in 2011. He looks ready to take the mantle as the team's top wideout.
You can find me on Twitter: @KyleWachtel