"As soon as you enter the NFL, they start looking for your replacement."
That quote (or at least a variation of it) has been uttered by hundreds and hundreds of NFL players over the years who were more than aware of the "Not For Long" nature of the National Football League, and the fact that it's a "Chew 'em up and spit 'em out" kind of business.
And even if longevity isn't an issue, and a player deals with the daily grind of the game, avoids injury and is actually quite successful, this doesn't mean general managers and coaches are necessarily satisfied with his skill-set.
With the NFL Draft quickly approaching, you're no doubt keenly aware of those "ideal measurables" for certain positions that scouts and draft experts drool over, and almost without fail, the singular measurement that everyone deems paramount for every position but the ones that involve kicking and punting has to do with size; in most cases, the bigger a player is, the closer he comes to fitting the ideal mold for his position.
And believe me, that mold is very important, and if a player doesn't necessarily fit into it (no matter how successful he is) you better believe his bosses will be on the look-out for someone better to come along.
And that brings me to Antonio Brown, the Steelers star receiver who set the team's single-season mark for receiving yards in 2013 with 1499 and came within an eyelash of doing the same with receptions, finishing just two shy of Hines Ward's standard of 112.
Brown was a sixth round pick out of Central Michigan in 2010 who had to fight and claw just to make the team and get on the field in his rookie year, but he made his presence known in the postseason with two crucial receptions that helped Pittsburgh make its eighth Super Bowl appearance. A season later, he became the guy who forever replaced the legendary Ward in the starting lineup as he racked up over 1100 receiving yards and made his first Pro Bowl.
That offseason, in training camp, Brown signed the contract extension that Mike Wallace was hoping for, and even though he didn't duplicate his 2011 success in 2012, there was no doubt the Steelers had cast their lot with Brown as their number one receiver in 2013.
And as the aforementioned numbers clearly indicate, Brown not only was Pittsburgh's number one receiver, statistically speaking, he was one of the best in the NFL in 2013.
The key words in that previous paragraph are "statistically speaking," because, while Brown is now lumped in with the best receivers in the game in terms of his stats, when it comes to physical attributes, most of the top receivers dwarf him by a good margin: Josh Gordon (6'3", 225 lbs), Calvin Johnson (6'5", 236 lbs), A.J. Green (6'4", 207 lbs), etc, etc.
At 5'10" and 186 lbs, Brown certainly doesn't fit the ideal physical mold of your typical number one wide-out, and with so much talk of Pittsburgh coveting a tall receiver in the upcoming draft, you have to wonder just how long Brown will be able to keep his status.
The Steelers have the 15th pick in May's draft, and if they were to somehow find themselves with Mike Evans out of Texas A&M (6'5", 231 lbs) or Kelvin Benjamin out of Florida St. (6'4", 240 lbs), they'd have someone that fits the description of a true number one receiver.
Much like Ward, who, despite his remarkable career that included 1000 receptions and a Super Bowl MVP, was never truly accepted as an elite receiver, Brown may always have to fight through the stigma of being the little receiver from Central Michigan; while his statistics clearly indicate he should be dining with the grown-ups, Brown's size just screams of someone who should be eating at the kiddie table.
Fortunately, Brown didn't get to this point by accident; he's one of the hardest workers on the Steelers and has already been voted team MVP twice in four seasons--a true sign of respect from his teammates.
It's the kind of work-ethic that will prove to be valuable in a league where Brown will always be a Mike Evans away from losing his status as a top receiver.
Earning your teammates respect is one thing. Getting your bosses to stop wanting you to be taller is another story.