Brown caught "only" 106 passes for 1,284 yards and 12 TDs while sitting Week 17 after the Steelers locked up their playoff seed. Prorate Brown's stats over the full calendar and they bump to 113-1,369-13. Not bad for a down year. Brown's targets (154) were down from the last two seasons, however, as was his per-play efficiency (12.1 YPC, 8.3 YPT.) Part of it was his lack of downfield catches (only three for 40-plus), but Brown had only four in 2014 and still managed 9.4 YPT. Perhaps QB Ben Roethlisberger, now 35 and having taken a savage beating over the years, is slipping -- Roethlisberger's 7.5 YPA was his lowest since 2013, he performed especially poorly on the road and he considered retiring this offseason. But Roethlisberger was even worse in 2013, the year when Brown broke out with 9.0 YPT, and both improved the following year. Brown's double-digit scores came despite a lack of red-zone work (15 targets, down from 24 in 2015, 34 in 2014), something that's not sustainable even for the greats, especially when the downfield piece is missing. Moreover, the return of the explosive, 6-4 Martavis Bryant would only perpetuate that trend. At 29, Brown is still in his late prime and is the most durable of the top WR, not missing a game to injury since 2012. He probably has the highest floor -- so long as his quarterback holds up for most of the year.
As great as Brown was in 2014, he was even better last year. While his streak of 21 straight games of at least 70 yards expired in Week 4 with Ben Roethlisberger out with a knee injury, Brown more than made up for it with four games of 187 yards or more. By season's end, he topped 2014's historic performance by seven catches and 136 yards - despite playing four games with Michael Vick and Landry Jones under center. Brown's 136 catches tied Julio Jones for No. 2 all time, and his 1,848 yards were fourth, behind only Calvin Johnson, Jones and Jerry Rice. Brown's upside is as high as ever. With Roethlisberger healthy and Martavis Bryant suspended for the year, Brown's target volume is likely to approach 200. At 5-10, 186, Brown does not cut an imposing figure, and his 4.47 speed is above average, though nothing special. But Brown is among the league's quickest and most sure-handed targets, nearly impossible to stay with and dangerous in space. He had eight catches of 40-plus (11st) and managed 9.5 YPT (6th) despite a massive workload and bottom-of-the-barrel QB play for four games. Brown's TD output dropped to 10 last year from 13 in 2014, but chalk that up to Roethlisberger's absence and variance - his 24 red-zone targets ranked fourth in the league, and his 11 targets inside the 10 were sixth.
In 2013, Brown was the lone small receiver atop a leaderboard filled with athletic freaks and monsters. Last year, he was the monster. Brown had the second-most receptions in NFL history and led the league in receiving yards with the sixth most all time. He also tied for second in TD receptions, with only Dez Bryant's 16 preventing Brown from a receiving triple crown. Brown was also the league's most consistent fantasy player last year with at least 70 receiving yards in all 16 games. Put differently, he never once failed to eclipse 13 points in PPR formats. At 5-10, 186, Brown is not your typical red-zone target, but he saw 34 from that area (2nd), and his 18 targets from inside the 10 tied him with Demaryius Thomas for the league lead. Although Brown is fast — his 4.47 40 is above average — he excels with uncanny quickness, excellent hands and first-rate ball skills. And while he didn't make an inordinate amount of big plays (19 catches of 20-plus, four of 40 or more), Brown averaged a robust 9.4 yards per target (9th among the league's 41 100-target WR) on heavy volume thanks to his 71-percent catch rate (4th). It's hard to find much downside, but the volume could drop slightly with Martavis Bryant likely to have a bigger role and rookie Sammie Coates providing an upgrade over last year's fourth option. And whenever you're looking at a historic season, some regression is always a prudent bet. Even so, in PPR leagues, Brown is the clear No. 1 choice.
The top of the receiver board last year was populated entirely by giant receivers with enough speed to get downfield. And Antonio Brown. At 5-10, 186, Brown is at least four inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than the six receivers who out-produced him. While Brown’s 4.47 40 speed is above average, it’s his uncanny quickness that sets him apart. Playing with Ben Roethlisberger, a quarterback who buys time with his ability to shed pass rushers, also doesn’t hurt – smallish receivers like Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes also succeeded in Pittsburgh, and Hines Ward was hardly a giant. Brown’s elusiveness and Roethlisberger’s ability to buy time netted Brown five catches of 40-plus (tied for 10th) and 20 of 20-plus (tied for 5th). While he benefitted from the Steelers’ limited complementary options in the passing game (his 166 targets ranked fourth), he took advantage of those chances, catching 110 balls (2nd) and averaging 9.0 YPT (11th). His efficiency was due to a 66-percent catch rate (6th), and among those who caught a higher percentage of their targets, only Jordy Nelson and Keenan Allen averaged more yards per catch. Given his size, Brown isn’t likely to score a lot of touchdowns, though. While he saw 19 red-zone looks, only four were from inside the 10-yard line, and he won’t be catching many fades over top of defensive backs. As such, he’ll have to do his damage from deep, which entails a far higher degree of difficulty. Heading into 2014, Brown should again be Roethlisberger’s unchallenged top target, though second-year man Markus Wheaton (who profiles similarly to Brown), along with free-agent signee Lance Moore, could reduce his workload somewhat.
With Mike Wallace now in Miami, Brown is the team's unquestioned No. 1 receiver.
That's the good news. The bad news is it might not matter much.
At 5-10, 186, Brown isn't going to see a lot of red-zone work – last season only seven of his 106 targets were inside that area. Brown is lightning quick and also has the straight-line speed to get deep – in 2011, he averaged 16.1 YPC. But in 2012, he managed just 11.9 YPC and 7.4 YPT, with only 10 catches for 20 yards or more and two for 40-plus.
Brown should see an uptick in receptions, and he could slide into Wallace's role, running more of the downfield routes with Emmanuel Sanders – or one of the team's rookies – handling the shorter ones. But even if that's the case, Brown's scoring upside will be limited as he's not the gamebreaker Wallace is.
Brown emerged as an effective complement to the speedy Mike Wallace and actually took over as the team’s top target in the second half of the year. At 5-10, 186, Brown’s a small, speed receiver with excellent quickness and good vision. Brown averaged 8.9 yards per target (14th), but his numbers picked up significantly in the season’s second half when he had 35 catches for 677 yards (19.3 YPC). Brown had only two receiving touchdowns (he also scored on a return), and while that number’s likely to increase, his lack of size and Wallace’s status as the team’s primary downfield threat limit his scoring upside significantly. For leagues that count return yards, Brown had quite a bit of value as he was the first player in NFL history to have 1,000 receiving and return yards in the same season. Brown enters 2012 as a starter opposite Wallace who incidentally appears intent on holding out for a multiyear contact. Chances are Wallace will sign before too long, but should talks fall apart, Brown would be far and away Ben Roethlisberger’s first look.
Brown was initially fighting for the third-receiver role against Emmanuel Sanders, until the Steelers went out and signed former Jet Jerricho Cotchery. Now the three of them will battle out who will get looks behind Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. Brown could separate himself with his speed and athleticism, but his upside is still fairly limited.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, Brown figures to have a tough road ahead in terms of making a significant impact with Pittsburgh this season. He'll likely have to settle for bringing his intensity (he got into a little rough stuff with Keenan Lewis during OTAs) to special teams.