Recently there was a debate on the NFL Network on whether or not any receiver would ever reach the rarefied air of 2,000 yards receiving in a 16-game NFL season. Experts debated, but the debate ultimately came down to Julio Jones and Antonio Brown as potential candidates to do the impossible.
Looking back at history, it is rather astonishing that no one has ever eclipsed 2,000 yards receiving. Granted, the NFL is a much more pass-happy league now compared to just 10 years ago, but the likes of Jerry Rice, Isaac Bruce and Marvin Harrison were all stopped shy of the 2k mark.
Here are the Top 5 receiving seasons in NFL history:
1. Calvin Johnson (2012) - 1,964 yards
2. Julio Jones (2015) - 1,871 yards
3. Jerry Rice (1995) - 1,848 yards
4. Antonio Brown (2015) - 1,848 yards
5. Isaac Bruce (1995) - 1,781 yards
So, with Jones and Brown as the only active players remaining on this list, what are the odds one of the two will break the 2,000 yard mark in 2016?
There are several factors which can impact attaining such a lofty goal next season. Some can help, while others may hurt, the odds of breaking Calvin Johnson's record.
No receiver with a sub-par quarterback will be breaking this record. Which also immediately puts Brown in great company with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm. However, as was on display in 2015, he needs Big Ben to stay healthy to throw him the ball...if that had happened we wouldn't be having this conversation as Brown would have shattered the 2,000 mark.
As noted above, receivers need their starting quarterback to remain healthy, but they too have to stay on the field. Dealing with nagging injuries can haunt a player throughout his career, but being smart and avoiding those dirty areas can keep a player on the field and productive.
Some might think this is foolish as a quality WR opposite them would take footballs away, and that is a legitimate concern, but they also are going to draw coverage away from them on a regular basis. Defending the Steelers without Martavis Bryant is easier than with him in the lineup, and that is something to consider with Brown in 2016.
Beating the System
As teams get to know the players better, they prepare for them better too. Players like Brown are almost impossible to stop legally, but the longer you play in the league the more film defensive coordinators have to try and stop you.
WR Friendly System
There aren't many teams who believe in the "3 yards and a cloud of dust" philosophy anymore, but if a receiver wants to have 2,000 yards receiving they need to be in a pass-friendly system. Todd Haley seems to have perfected the offense around his weapons, and there might not be a bigger weapon than No. 84 in the black and gold.
So, after all that, will Antonio Brown be able to do what no one else has? We know he is in the system with the quarterback to get the job done, but the unknown is what could come back to haunt him. Roethlisberger's injuries in 2015 ultimately ended his bid last season, and it won't be easier without Martavis Bryant in 2016, but Brown didn't need his help in the first 5 games of 2015 when he caught 523 yards, two of those games with Mike Vick at quarterback.
Brown can beat zone coverage, and certainly can abuse a defensive back one-on-one, but can he set a new standard for receivers to try and catch on a yearly basis? If health is on their side, there is no doubt in my mind Brown won't be atop the receiving list when the 2016 season is in the books.