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- Projections for Antonio Brown
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Phil Alexander: Antonio Brown was traded to the Oakland Raiders for third-and fifth-round draft picks. Brown has been the consensus No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy since Calvin Johnson retired following the 2014 season. At age 31, and outside the fantasy-friendly confines of Pittsburgh's offense, it seems a foregone conclusion Brown's time as the overall WR1 in fantasy has come to an end. The projected statistical decline, however, will be baked into his ADP.
At what point in drafts does Brown become a value? Give us an early season-long projection for Brown as a Raider and where you plan on ranking him among wide receivers.
Andy Hicks: Even a slight decline in Brown’s astronomical numbers still places him among the league’s elite, but the move to Oakland has me concerned. What if he doesn’t click with Derek Carr? What if he clashes with John Gruden? Brown is used to winning in Pittsburgh. How will he handle losing with the Raiders? The uncertainty is enough for me to avoid Brown at ADP, but we can’t totally rule out a continuation of his production with the Steelers. 140 targets, 95 catches, 1200 yards, and 7 touchdowns seems about right. That would make him a bottom tier WR1 and I expect most analysts will have him higher.
Daniel Simpkins: The Raiders offense should be more competent than last year and Brown will be their leading receiver, but I’m tepid on investing a second or third-round pick on him. 1,000 yards and 7-10 touchdowns seems more like a ceiling than a floor for Brown in Oakland. If he slips into the back end of the Round 4, I’ll consider taking him, but I’m confident someone will pull the trigger before me in most drafts. I prefer Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and T.Y. Hilton over Brown in redraft formats.
Jason Wood: I have difficulty expecting Brown to flop this year. He's going to see upwards of 170 targets because the Raiders will have to throw the ball a ton. Even if you assume his catch rate falls a bit, he should approach 100 receptions, 1,250 yards, and 7-8 touchdowns. My expectation is for Brown to become more of a possession option than he was in Pittsburgh, so we’re likely to see some decline in yards per reception, and by extension, total yards.
Alessandro Miglio: Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver on the planet. I agree with Jason that it’s hard to see him falling on his face, but what are we supposed to make of what happened to Amari Cooper with the Raiders? Cooper was invisible in Oakland and went right back to looking like one of the best receivers in the game after being traded to Dallas. Who's to say Brown won't suffer a similar fate catching passes from Derek Carr?
Daniel Simpkins: That’s a big reason I’m down on Brown too, Alessandro. I was mystified by how much trouble Oakland had getting the ball to Cooper, who I consider to be one of the most complete route runners in the game. I wouldn’t put all of last season’s struggles on Carr, though. The offensive line crumbled and injuries to key offensive contributors like Marshawn Lynch and Jordy Nelson were too much to overcome. The Trent Brown acquisition will help keep Carr’s blindside clean and the Raiders have the draft capital for a starting guard to replace Kelechi Osemele. Brown should at least have a better shot than Cooper did of putting up numbers.
Dan Hindery: Absolutely, Daniel. The offensive line factor can’t be underestimated in this equation. Oakland’s two rookie offensive tackles were disasters as pass blockers last season. The addition of Brown at tackle and the play of second-year man Kolton Miller will be huge keys. If Miller improves and Brown can maintain his level of play from last season, Carr has the talent to get him the ball.
Allesandro Miglio: I’m still not convinced Brown will remain a top-flight receiver, and his fantasy stock isn't going to dip far enough to make him a value. He is a brand name, whether Carr is bad or not.
Will Grant: Brown and Tyrell Williams are great additions, but let’s not pretend this turns Oakland into a 4,500-yard passing team. If Brown had returned to Pittsburgh, he would have been an easy top-3 wide receiver. In Oakland, he’ll take a hit, especially in the touchdown department. 1,100 yards and six touchdowns feels about right for Brown this season, which puts him in the upper second tier of fantasy wide receivers. He’s a strong value pick near the end of the third or top of the fourth round.
BJ Vanderwoude: Gruden has had success with veteran wide receivers before and Brown will add his name to that list when it is all said and done. It seems like most of the staff is looking past Brown’s otherworldly talent, which creates a situation to exploit in drafts once you get past the top-6 wide receivers (Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Odell Beckham Jr, and Michael Thomas). Jason’s projection of 100 catches, 1,250 yards, and 8 touchdowns feels right, but keep in mind those would all be five-year lows for Brown. There is plenty of room for him to exceed those totals on a team without much competition for touches and lots of garbage time
Chad Parsons: I’m with BJ -- Brown will be undervalued by the market. The Raiders are viewed by the public as a huge step down from Pittsburgh and Derek Carr inspires little confidence. The key for me, though, is target volume. 150+ targets remains a reasonable expectation, keeping Brown's top-12 PPR floor intact. The probability Brown finishes as the No.1 overall receiver in fantasy definitely decreases, but on volume alone, he’s still a sturdy WR1 option.
Brown's early ADP (near the Round 2-3 turn) makes him ideal to pair with an elite running back in Round 1. With little separation between the top-10 receivers, Brown stands out as a 'wait and mine value' type of target.
Dan Hindery: I also have Brown ranked as WR7 behind Hopkins, Beckham, Adams, Smith-Schuster, Thomas, and Jones. I agree with Chad -- he is a great target in the late-second round and it feels pretty sweet to pick an elite running back at the top of the first and pair him with a wide receiver like Brown.
Brown finished as WR5 last year with a 104-1,297-15 line. The reception and yardage numbers shouldn’t fall too much, but I’d be surprised if he can come close to 15 touchdowns again. Derek Carr threw just 19 touchdowns last season. While that number should go up with Brown in the fold, the Raiders offense probably isn’t going to score enough for Brown to score more than 7-10 touchdowns.
Justin Howe: Brown can win any route on the field, and if Gruden/Carr keep up their slot-happy turtle ball routine, I see his floor as a lower-impact PPR monster. He won't sniff the big-play and touchdown opportunity he had in Pittsburgh, but PPR gamers won't complain if he absorbs 150 targets and goes for a 105-1,250-7 line -- essentially Keenan Allen numbers.
Sigmund Bloom: With Carr's penchant for the short pass and a lack of viable targets on the roster, Brown catching 120 passes is more mean than ceiling for him this year. He'll be a value in the third round even though he'll have a low yards per catch and likely drop in touchdown catches.
Phil Alexander: If Brown was on your fantasy team, would you rather have Carr or Kyler Murray as the Raiders starting quarterback?
Andy Hicks: I like Carr as a quarterback, but don’t see the working relationship with Gruden lasting much longer. Murray as Oakland’s starter could be a masterstroke or an utter disaster.
Jason Wood: Yup. Murray has intriguing upside, but he could also be a total bust. In fact, I would say those outcomes have the same odds as a coin toss. If you're a Brown owner, you want Carr as his quarterback. He knows the offense and has five years starting experience.
Daniel Simpkins: I would rather Carr as the starter over Murray. First-year quarterbacks are generally better off sitting and learning their first year anyway, but Murray in particular, is a prospect who needs to grow in certain areas of his game and will be better if he has time to simmer.
Will Grant: Carr should be Oakland’s starter for the season, and he gives Brown a better chance than any rookie to post his best possible numbers. That being said, Carr is nothing more than a backup for fantasy purposes.
BJ Vanderwoude: I haven’t given up on Carr as a quarterback a franchise can build around, but if I had my choice, I would rather Murray. He’s such a dynamic player, and once you get past his size, you see a quarterback who can make all the throws with a high degree of accuracy. Murray is a strong passer, but he's been compared to Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson as a runner. Opposing defenses will have a hard time planning for Murray, and if you give him a receiver who can get open downfield like Brown, they could be unstoppable.
Dan Hindery: Carr got off to a really rough start, with some inexplicable mistakes early in the season that cost the Raiders. In the second half of the season, he was probably a little bit better than his numbers indicate. He went 10 straight games without throwing an interception and was decent considering he had almost nothing to work with at wide receiver and a disastrous offensive line.
I doubt Murray makes it past Arizona with the top pick, but if he does, he is a superior talent to Carr, with better downfield accuracy and ability to extend plays. He would be better for Brown and the other Raiders receivers.
Phil Alexander: Exactly, Dan. How many times have we seen Ben Roethlisberger extend a play and throw it deep to a wide open Brown downfield for a touchdown? Murray is the perfect quarterback to max out Brown’s numbers.
Justin Howe: No way. The answer is Carr, without question. He has his warts (shaky against any type of rush and not much of a downfield creator), but he seems capable of captaining a net-positive fantasy offense with the help of a stud WR1. Last year, Carr posted 7.2 adjusted yards per attempt -- almost identical to Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Kirk Cousins -- while throwing to practice squad wideouts.
Sigmund Bloom: Carr is safer for this year, and locks in higher volume of high percentage targets, but Murray can create more chunk plays and big games. In nonPPR or big play/game bonus leagues, Murray, in PPR, Carr.
Phil Alexander: Brown leaves behind an enormous void in the Steelers offense. JuJu Smith-Schuster is already being talked up in fantasy circles as a potential top-5 option at the wide receiver position. Are you buying Smith-Schuster as an elite fantasy receiver without Brown in Pittsburgh to draw away coverage?
Alessandro Miglio: Smith-Schuster is going to be too expensive. Perhaps he simply steps into Brown's role and turns in another top-five fantasy season as the WR1 in Pittsburgh. But it’s incredibly risky to treat that as gospel before we see it happen.
Andy Hicks: There is a chance Smith-Schuster gets taken too high, but he profiles as a safe WR1. He can make both easy and difficult catches, and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. We also shouldn’t underestimate the stability provided by a quarterback and head coach combo that never changes and the fact he’s still only 22 years old. Last season’s top-8 finish was only the start.
Daniel Simpkins: It depends on how the Steelers coaching staff uses Smith-Schuster, but hopefully they keep him in the slot instead of forcing him into Antonio Brown’s X role. If whoever ends up starting outside can play competently enough to keep Smith-Schuster from being double covered, he could live up to the hype.
Jason Wood: I heard on the radio today Smith-Schuster was bracketed on less than 2% of his snaps last year. I have no idea if that number is accurate, but if it's close, assuming further growth from Smith-Schuster is dangerous. He's comfortably a top-10 receiver, but I don’t expect him to replicate Brown's numbers.
Will Grant: Jason nailed it. It's foolish to assume that Smith-Schuster steps into Brown's role or sees a significant bump in his 2018 stats, but he’s still inside the top-10.
BJ Vanderwoude: I am confident Smith-Schuster can handle a high volume of targets and convert them with the same efficiency he did while playing with Brown. Smith-Schuster is a complete receiver. The fact he’s multi-dimensional gives him a much better chance at succeeding without Brown drawing away coverage since defenses can’t just double team him with safety help and expect to take him out of the game. He’s going to turn in a elite season.
Chad Parsons: I’m also bullish on Smith-Schuster, especially in dynasty leagues. His production through two seasons, considering his age, is historically rare. He’ll need to adjust to more defensive attention and No.1 cornerbacks, but I am comfortable ranking him as a top-10 wide receiver in dynasty. In terms of 2019, however, I would pass on Smith-Schuster early in Round 2 in favor of better wide receiver values.
Dan Hindery: Smith-Schuster was WR8 last season on 166 targets and should finish in the same range again. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him add another target or two per game to his 2018 totals, which would put him at nearly 200 targets. Even if his per-target productivity takes a hit due to seeing extra attention from opposing defenses, the increase in opportunities should make up for it in terms of overall fantasy production. More red zone looks will also be huge for Smith-Schuster. He ranked second in the NFL last season with 29 red zone targets and will pick up at least a few of the 24 red zone targets Brown leaves behind.
Justin Howe: It's officially JuJu o'clock. There is nothing fluky about his production at such a young age. Dating back to the 1970 merger, only five other receivers have posted more than 85 yards per game before their age-23 season. And 2018 wasn't Smith-Schuster's first monstrous season either. His 2017 was the second-most efficient fantasy debut by a rookie wide receiver, with 2.43 PPR points per target (Randy Moss edged him out at 2.44). The tape looks strong, the metrics are dazzling, and he's just now at the age to expect a breakout. There'll be regression, but let's do a quick exercise:
Deflate his opportunity a bit due to the Steelers' mega-volume passing game taking a slide.
Increase his WR1 target share by a modest 5% with Brown gone.
Keep his catch, yardage, and touchdown rates identical to 2018.
You're still coming up with 153 targets and a 102-1,306-6 campaign. Project a little personal growth, and he easily comes out with top-six numbers at the position.
Andy Hicks: Hines Ward, Brown, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Smith-Schuster have all played at or near a Pro Bowl level with Roethlisberger. Out of all the receivers that have played well in Pittsburgh over the last decade, James Washington is the highest drafted of them all. He should prove to be a solid counterpart to Smith-Schuster. Pittsburgh also drafts receivers well, so I would expect a rookie to be added to the mix.
Daniel Simpkins: I hope Washington is ready to make a leap. I loved him coming out of Oklahoma State and the Steelers do seem to have an eye for scouting receiver talent. If Washington isn’t ready, Moncrief could be the guy on the perimeter.
Will Grant: McDonald was already a top-10 fantasy tight end last season and he’ll have the opportunity to improve on that finish with some additional targets. Washington had a decent rookie season, and should benefit from expanded playing time and another full year in the Steelers offense. Moncrief teased us in Indianapolis, but didn’t do much in Jacksonville last season. I have to see it from him before I believe it.
Chad Parsons: The Moncrief signing was an interesting one. Washington was an elite metric prospect, who was picked on mid-Day 2 of the NFL draft. Wide receivers who fit that profile tend to hit within their first two-to-three seasons. Moncrief has been an under-performer to date and is now on his third team. I give Washington the best odds for a WR2 breakout in Pittsburgh, but Moncrief is going multiple rounds later. The best play might be to pick them both at a minimal investment to make sure you get the right one.
Justin Howe: Washington is intriguing considering the Steelers' otherworldly ability to scout wide receivers and the possibility he sees a Smith-Schuster type of target share. I fear his value will skyrocket this summer, though, and I'm bailing if he leaps into Round 5 or 6.
BJ Vanderwoude: Like Daniel, I am a believer in Washington's talent, and I see him as a nice fit opposite Smith-Schuster. Washington plays much bigger than his size, and despite lacking elite speed, is a dangerous deep threat and red zone weapon. McDonald has shown flashes of play-making ability as a receiver, but there weren’t enough balls to go around each week in Pittsburgh. That should change this year and McDonald has a great chance to be a top-5 tight end, especially considering how shallow the position is these days.
Dan Hindery: McDonald is the Steelers player I am most excited about when factoring in ADP. He had his best professional season in 2018 (50-610-4) and could take it to another level this year. McDonald should pick up almost all of the targets Jesse James left behind (39) and could also see extra opportunities due to Browns’s departure -- especially in the red zone.
Sigmund Bloom: I'll toss a few other names out there: Eli Rogers was re-signed and Roethlisberger loves him. He could hoover up easy targets in the slot along with Ryan Switzer. I also hope the Steelers explore more two back sets with James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. Samuels can play move tight end and give the team another viable target in the short passing game.
Phil Alexander: What about Ben Roethlisberger? He finished as the cumulative QB3 in fantasy leagues last season. Is he still a viable starter in 12-team fantasy leagues?
Alessandro Miglio: This isn't the first time Roethlisberger has lost a top wideout. Methinks he will fare just fine with Smith-Schuster, Washington, and whover is the next receiver the Steelers decide to draft and transform into a stud. The bigger concern for Roethlisberger is age -- he can only bounce back from agonizing injuries for so long before Father Time finally wins the battle.
Andy Hicks: Roethlisberger played a 16-game schedule for only the fourth time in his career, which raised him above his usual late QB1 finish. He’ll remain a viable starter, but is more likely to finish towards the bottom of that tier due to missed games.
Daniel Simpkins: He’s right on the border. I like Roethlisberger more as a matchup play, and with so many viable quarterbacks from week to week, it’s possible to draft him as part of a committee. I know he’s getting older and there’s always the risk of sudden, sharp decline with quarterbacks nearing age-40, but making him part of a committee mitigates things somewhat.
Jason Wood: Roethlisberger has been a quality quarterback for much longer than Antonio Brown has been an elite receiver. But he's also an aging veteran who flirts with retirement every season. If you see Brown and Le'Veon Bell leaving as a sign to avoid the Steelers in 2019, I can't argue with the cautious apprehension. But Roethlisberger is too good to write off. The Steelers offensive line is both intact and great. Their coaching staff is a constant, and has been able to plug holes, including maintaining a great ground game without Bell. Roethlisberger needs to be dropped down a few slots, but he's still a fringe QB1.
Will Grant: Roethlisberger was a guy who you could have easily drafted in Round 9 last season. In one of my leagues, he went at pick 11.10. You probably won't get him that late this season, but Roethlisberger always seems to be under-valued in fantasy leagues. His performance last season will be discounted due to Brown leaving, and he'll again fall into the bottom tier of starting fantasy quarterbacks. He's a solid starter in 12-team fantasy leagues, and makes an excellent quarterback by committee pick if you can pair him with another solid option near the 10th round.
BJ Vanderwoude: This is a great question. I was on the fence until I looked at Roethlisberger's statistical history. Losing Brown and Bell would normally be enough to drop a quarterback from QB3 to undrafted, but the Steelers still have talent at the skill positions, and as the guys have mentioned, are perhaps the best organization at drafting wide receivers over the last 10 years. Another impact wide receiver could very well be on the way.
But in Roethlisberger's career, he has only one other top-12 season (2014). That was a year where 212 of his 408 completions, 16 of his 32 touchdown passes and 2,552 of his 4,952 passing yards went to Brown and Bell. It was also the only other year that he exceeded 4,330 yards passing (4,952 yards). That is a 700+ yard difference, and with a sample size of 15 seasons as a starting quarterback, 2014 and 2018 look more like outliers than they do anything you can hang your hat on.
The safe money is on Roethlisberger not finishing as a starter in 12 team leagues. He doesn’t have the same dynamic play-makers around him or the same level of comfort with his current supporting cast. Brown was a big reason for Roethlisberger's success as a passer, and as good as Smith-Schuster is, there is going to be a drop off when you don't have the two of them working in concert with one another.
Dan Hindery: Roethlisberger is currently my QB11, based on an assumption the Steelers add a wide receiver early in the NFL draft. With a loaded 2019 class and a couple extra picks to work with, they should be able to add a starting caliber player to go along with Smith-Schuster, Washington, and Moncrief. Those should be enough weapons for Roethlisberger to have another QB1 season.
Justin Howe: I rode Roethlisberger a lot last year, as he's always a strong rotational target in best ball drafts. Scooping him in Round 10 to pair with Jared Goff in Round 11, for example, was an excellent play in 2018. But he's now ticketed for full-scale regression after a stars-align type of year. He played 16 games for just the fourth time in his 15 seasons, and he attempted 67 more passes than his previous career-high. He even ran in three touchdowns after managing just two scores on the ground from 2011-2017. Roethlisberger wasn't particularly efficient as a fantasy scorer -- 14th out of 38 qualifiers in points per opportunity -- so he needs last year’s volume profile to stick as a no-brainer QB1. Without it, and with Brown jettisoned to boot, he faces a tough climb.
Sigmund Bloom: There's no way to overstate how much Brown helped Roethlisberger over the years. He'll be a fringe QB1 this year and probably overdrafted at an easy position to wait on in fantasy leagues.
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