With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at the perennial first wide receiver off the board in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes.
The modern-day NFL’s pass-happy offenses have paved the way for dozens of talented receivers across the league. The likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Michael Thomas have shattered record books shortly into their respective careers, while long-time staples such as Julio Jones and T.Y. Hilton are always threats to erupt for a big performance. Still, one wide receiver has consistently stood head and shoulders above the rest.
The Receiving Record Books Are Poised to Be Rewritten
Antonio Brown has been one of the league’s top receivers since 2013, the better part of his eight-year career. Statistically, Brown finds himself among some of the all-time great receivers from any era through eight seasons:
- Receptions: 733 (second)
- Yards: 9,910 (sixth)
- Yards per game: 86.2 (fourth)
- Touchdowns: 59 (20th)
- 100+ yard games: 37 (tied-sixth)
Jerry Rice posted the top PPR wide receiver season of all-time in 1995, but Brown is the only player with multiple seasons in the top five.
Things get even more ridiculous after considering Brown has missed 13 games throughout his career. He ranks first among all receivers in yards and receptions through the first 115 games of their career.
This accumulation of counting stats has unsurprisingly resulted in a consistent barrage of fantasy production:
Antonio Brown PPR finish by year
2017: WR1 pic.twitter.com/4IUwA1hMYW
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 19, 2018
Brown joins Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only receivers to record three-plus seasons as the league’s PPR WR1. Brown is poised to continue climbing the ranks if the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger don’t stray from his astronomical workload.
Brown Possesses the League’s Most Fantasy-Friendly Target Share
The Steelers boast one of the best receiving backs ever in Le’Veon Bell, and the likes of 2017 rookie breakout star Juju Smith-Schuster and 2018 second-round pick James Washington at wide receiver along with athletic receiving tight end Vance Mcdonald.
Save for Martavis Bryant in place of Washington, the Steelers offense featured all the aforementioned players in 2017, yet only DeAndre Hopkins commanded a workload comparable to Brown, who finished the season second in targets (163) and target share (30.7%).
Brown also finished 15th in end zone target share (33.%) and 17th (25.9%) in red-zone target share, per Player Profiler, and though those rankings are more modest, they aren’t a reason for concern considering he was one of just nine receivers with double-digit targets inside the 10-yard line last season.
Additionally, Brown provides unrivaled chances on deep passes down the field. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s ranked among the league’s top-six wide receivers in targets on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield in each of the past three seasons.
There’s yet to be a defense or cornerback to consistently limit Brown, let alone shut him down. Still, two negative trends have plagued the league’s best wide receiver over his career.
Brown Isn’t the Same Monster on the Road or Without Big Ben
Brown played at least 13 games as the Steelers’ nominal No. 1 or No. 2 receiver each year from 2011 to 2017. He’s averaged a ridiculous 6.8-91.9-0.6 line during those 106 games, but things haven’t gone quite as smoothly away from Heinz Field:
- Home (52 games): 10.4 targets, 6.9 receptions, 98.5 yards, 0.8 TDs per game; 11 games with 2+ TDs; 22 games 100+ yards
- Road (54 games): 10.2 targets, 6.7 receptions, 85.5 yards, 0.3 TDs per game; three games with 2+ TDs; 15 games with 100+ yards
Per our NFL Trends Tool, Brown has averaged 28.2 DraftKings points per game, a +8.9 Plus/Minus, and a 75% Consistency Rating at Heinz Field since 2014, but ‘just’ 20.7, +1.2, and 54%, respectively, on the road.
Surprisingly, Brown has boasted a negligible +0.5% ownership premium at home. (Be sure to check out our Ownership and Contest dashboards in 2018 to see how the public and sharps alike treat Brown and Roethlisberger’s severe home/road splits.)
And though he’s had a couple of big yardage games without Roethlisberger, Brown is yet to find the end zone without him quarterbacking the offense.
You’d obviously never sit Brown in season-long formats regardless of who is under center, but fading him without Roethlisberger in DFS and approaching both with caution on the road has generally been a +EV strategy.
Brown Remains the League’s Clear-Cut Top Wideout
With all of that said, what receiver doesn’t struggle when their Hall of Fame quarterback is sidelined? Despite Brown’s personal downgrade in production away from Heinz Field, he still ranks among the league’s top four receivers in average DraftKings and FanDuel points per game on the road since 2014.
Brown will always get a defense’s best effort; he was one of 11 receivers that were shadowed in at least five games last season. Still, two missed games and matchups against top cornerbacks such as Jalen Ramsey, Xavier Rhodes, and Darius Slay couldn’t stop Brown from reaching WR1 status in 2017.
It’s tough to see anyone getting in Brown’s way of another No. 1 fantasy finish in 2018.
You can use our tools to research more player- or team-specific questions for yourself, and be sure to check out The Action Network for more in-depth NFL analysis.
Pictured above: Antonio Brown
Photo credit: Geoff Burke – USA TODAY Sports