FanPost

Brown vs. The Field

At this time last year, Steelers fans were locked in vigorous debate over who was better Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown. It's still a fascinating question, but one we're really no better equipped to answer now after the injury severely limited Sanders' season. Not even opposing defenses seemed able to limit Brown at times last year, though, and because of his success, along with Mike Wallace's ongoing contract issues, the question now has become who is better between Brown and Wallace. In some ways, this debate is even more difficult than Brown vs. Sanders because Brown and Wallace have such different roles. Not only do they run different routes most of the time, but Wallace typically was the primary focus of the defense, and also on the other hand the primary focus of Ben and Arians. So why not expand the comparisons even more broadly? How does Brown compare to other Steelers WR's of the modern era like Holmes, Burress, and Ward?

Let's start simple with a look at Antonio Brown's career stats as a Steeler.

Player

Year

Rec

Yds/rec

Yds/game

YAC

TD

100+

Antonio

2010

16

10.4

18

6.9

0

0

Brown

2011

69

16.1

69

5.0

2

3

Now, here's a game by game breakdown of Brown's 2011 breakout season. Note that the bold numbers represent where he outperformed Mike Wallace. I'm not going to bother breaking down Brown's 16 catches from his rookie year except to point out that all but 1 catch for 6 yards came in the last 6 games. So while his stats look like he was basically non-existent in the offense that year, what actually happened was that he really was non-existent up until he became a fairly important part of the offense in the last third of the season. It's also worth noting that at least 8 of those catches were 3rd down conversions. Anyway, though, here's 2011.

Week

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

Rec/Yds (TD)

2/14

4/67

4/75

5/67

2/23

1/16

7/102

9/67 (1)

5/109

Week

10

12

13

14

15

16

17

WC

Rec/Yds (TD)

5/86

4/81

2/67

5/151 (1)

5/59

3/34

6/90

5/70

You can see from these numbers that Brown began the year already with a good head of steam, if you discount the Ravens debacle where nothing went well. Wallace was busy tearing up offenses through the first half of the season, but throughout the latter half Wallace was being fed bubble screens more than he was feeding on free safeties. Brown really became the focal point of the offense from a production standpoint.

You can also see above Brown's consistency and potential to dominate. He managed to have a significant impact just about every week, and also showed the ability to really carry the offense with buckets of receptions like weeks 7 and 8, or with buckets of yards like weeks 9 and 14. So how does this stack up with other recent Steelers receivers?

Let's start with Hines Ward. The introduction of a new system diminishes the void left by Ward's departure, but there's still a wide open place in the offense for a clutch possession receiver. I'm not saying Brown or anyone else can fill Hines' shoes, but how well might he follow in Ward's footsteps? Look at Ward's stats from his first two years in the league compared to Brown's.

Player

Year

Rec

Yds/rec

Yds/game

YAC

TD

100+

Hines

1998

15

16.4

15.4

--

0

0

Ward

1999

61

10.5

39.0

6.7

7

0

Player

Year

Rec

Yds/rec

Yds/game

YAC

TD

100+

Antonio

2010

16

10.4

18

6.9

0

0

Brown

2011

69

16.1

69

5.0

2

3

The similarity here is striking. Both were overshadowed early in their careers, especially in their rookie seasons where neither really burst on the scene immediately. Their receptions totals are very similar both years, and their Yds/rec and YAC match closely although flip-flopped in terms of year. The first thing that stands out is that Hines had way more TD's. His toughness to fight for the ball in traffic led to a lot of red zone production that Brown with his smaller stature probably will not be able to match. The other thing that sticks out is that in a larger sample size (60+ rec) Brown was more productive down the field, with higher yds/rec and more 100yd games. Hines' 16.4 average as a rookie was a statistical aberration that he wouldn't come within two yards of for the rest of his career. Brown, on the other hand, showed with more opportunities that he has ability to stretch the field much more than Hines. There is definite overlap in their skill set, with both players being able to create sufficient separation in the short passing game, however, Brown looks to be less effective as a possession receiver and more of an all-around receiver.

The next comparison in successful young Steelers receivers of the modern era is Plaxico Burress. Of course, there are a lot of obvious differences here in size alone, but let's have a look at the stats anyway.

Player

Year

Rec

Yds/rec

Yds/game

YAC

TD

100+

Plaxico

2000

22

12.4

27

3.0

0

0

Burress

2001

66

15.3

63

2.6

6

4

Player

Year

Rec

Yds/rec

Yds/game

YAC

TD

100+

Antonio

2010

16

10.4

18

6.9

0

0

Brown

2011

69

16.1

69

5.0

2

3

First off, you can see that Burress was only marginally more effective overall in his rookie campaign despite being drafted 8th overall. Brown and Burress really differ in attitude even more than in stature, with Brown towering over Burress in terms of maturity and work ethic. Anyhow, you can see that Burress as a focus in both the vertical passing game and red zone offense scored much more than Brown, while Brown was much more successful after the catch. The only similarity is that in the end they finished up with about the same amount of yardage.

Lastly, then, we come to Santonio Holmes. Among recently successful Steelers wideouts, Holmes best matches Brown in body type, listed as an inch taller and 6 pounds heavier than Brown. I think this is perhaps the most interesting and apt comparison for Brown. We all know that Holmes would only briefly actually live up to his potential before transforming into mini-plax with maturity issues off the field costing him on the field. How does Brown after two years compare, though, to what Holmes could've been?

Player

Year

Rec

Yds/rec

Yds/game

YAC

TD

100+

Santonio

2006

49

16.8

51

7.0

2

1

Holmes

2007

52

18.1

72

5.0

8

3

Player

Year

Rec

Yds/rec

Yds/game

YAC

TD

100+

Antonio

2010

16

10.4

18

6.9

0

0

Brown

2011

69

16.1

69

5.0

2

3

Holmes was obviously much more productive in his rookie year. Being a first round pick he had more opportunities, and coming from a major program he didn't have as big an adjustment to make. Year two is where the real comparison starts. Here we see identical YAC as both players, which adequately conveys the similar abilities of two top notch return men. We also see a similar impact in terms of yardage, it total and in 100yd games. Holmes' higher yds/rec, fewer receptions, and more TD's show that his role at the time took him down the field more than Brown, as he stretched the field with Hines working underneath. So we see two receivers who appear similar in terms of style (physically), and similar in ability (in terms of yardage), used in two different ways. Brown beats Holmes in receptions because he's used more in the short passing game, Holmes beats Brown in TD's because he's used more in the vertical passing game. I think it's reasonable to assert, though, that Brown would approximate Holmes' production if used in a similar role (i.e. if Wallace leaves).

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