In a league where a premium is placed on vertical, passing offenses, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown has been the do-everything player that's helped fuel the Steelers' success in 2014. Beginning the season with a Mortal Kombat style kick to Spencer Lanning, Brown has gone on to submit what is arguably the best season for a wide receiver in Steelers' history. In fact, Brown's 2014 season is worthy of consideration as one of the best seasons ever for an NFL wideout.
His 129 catches are not only a franchise record, but also very nearly a league record, as Brown trails only Marvin Harrison's 144 for second-most all time. Brown's 1,698 receiving yards broke his own team record of 1,499 set last season and are also the sixth-most for a single season in league history. Brown was second in the league in touchdown receptions this season, his 13 scores tied with Jordy Nelson and three behind the leader Dez Bryant. He also managed to be third in the league with 14 total scores, including Sunday's punt return. He has broken pretty much every single-season receiving record for the Steelers and he managed to knock on the door of several NFL records. Most notably, Brown's 85 first downs led all wide receivers.
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All of these figures point to one fact: Antonio Brown is the most versatile wide receiver in the NFL. Brown stands a modest 5-feet-10 and weighs only 185 pounds. In a league where big, strong receivers like Bryant, Nelson, Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones (who are all at least 6-foot-3 and weigh more than 210 pounds) Brown has managed to outshine them all with an unparalled combination of attributes which make a receiver great. Brown's quickness and elusiveness serve him well in the open field, but it's his pinpoint route-running that gets him open and his incredibly soft hands that allow him to finish plays. His 129 catches suggest he's a trusted, reliable possession receiver, while his 13 touchdowns indicate his effectiveness as a red-zone target. For an undersized player, Brown's 2014 statistics are truly remarkable.
Amazingly, Brown's immense talent doesn't seem to sway his ego in any direction. Sure, Brown's celebrations and touchdown dances might draw come criticism from more conservative, traditional fans, but it's his outgoing personality and megawatt smile that show the depth of his love for the game and the city of Pittsburgh.
Brown has a Hines Ward-level of admiration and adoration from the fans, but he's a superstar talent. Granted, Ward was a Pro-Bowl caliber player for the Steelers, but he wasn't inserting himself into the conversation for "best receiver" on a weekly basis like Brown has managed to do. He also has made Steelers fans forget all about Mike Wallace, an issue that seemed hopeless only a few seasons ago.
And now Brown faces the team against which his ascent to superstardom began. Remember, it was Brown's 58-yard catch on 3rd-and-19 that set up the winning touchdown against the Ravens in the 2010 Divisional Playoff, Brown's rookie season. Since then, Brown has embedded himself as one of the premier playmakers in the NFL.
Le'Veon Bell's status for Saturday's Wildcard matchup with Baltimore is still very much in question, but the one certainty that remains is Antonio Brown will be suiting up for Pittsburgh, and that's cause for celebration.