Antonio Brown began his professional career in 2010 as a secondary receiving option behind Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. The following year he exploded into prominence by accumulating over 1,100 yards despite starting just three contests. And in the process, Brown quickly established that he could be a dynamic receiving weapon in just his second NFL season. This occurred at the precise time that Wallace was amassing over 1,193 yards and eight TDs, as the tandem asserted themselves as a dangerous pair of targets for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger not only located both playmakers extensively in 2011, but did so once again in 2012. Although injuries forced the trio to miss a total of eight contests between them. However, Brown and Wallace still managed to accrue respectable results, even though their numbers did not quite replicate their career bests from one year earlier. But despite the success that Brown and Wallace attained while being paired together in Pittsburgh’s lineup, the twosome will be performing separately this season.
Brown's Ascension Into The WR1 Role
Brown was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, therefore his nominal involvement in the offense as a rookie was understandable. In 2011 he blossomed into the team’s most targeted wideout, as his yardage total expanded sizably from the 167 that he managed just one season earlier to 1,108. That was the NFL’s 15th highest total among all WRs, and supplied the Steelers with a second highly productive receiver to employ along with Wallace. But during the offseason of 2012, the Steelers were not convinced that Wallace would sign a long term contract. And indeed he spurned their offer of five years, and $42.5 million. Plus, he initially balked at signing a one-year, $2.7 million tender offer. Since the organization did not want to enter the 2013 season needing to secure both Wallace and Brown with new contracts, Pittsburgh executed a deal with Brown that was extremely similar to the offer that they had previously made to Wallace. At that point it became increasingly plausible that Brown would eventually be assuming the mantle as Pittsburgh's top receiver. Partially as a result of Wallace's decision to holdout rather than attend offseason workouts, mini-camp and training camp, thereby damaging his relationship with the team. But Brown’s proficiency had also convinced Pittsburgh’s decision makers that he was fully capable of elevating into Wallace’s role, which led to the contract extension that he garnered. Wallace ultimately reported on August 28, after finally signing the one-year tender. But the foundation had been created regarding the team’s long-term plans for both receivers. Wallace’s well documented contract issues had already lingered throughout 2012, and all but assured his eventual exit from Pittsburgh. When he signed a $60 million deal with Miami, the separation of playmaker and team became final.
How Their Numbers Compare
Wallace certainly left his statistical imprint, and replicating his output will not be a mere formality. In 2009 he tied for the team lead with six TDs despite the presence of Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller. The following season his production soared, as he led the Steelers with 100 targets and 60 receptions, while establishing career bests with 1,257 yards, and 10 TDs. He also paced Pittsburgh with 72 receptions in 2011, while registering the yardage and scoring totals that were mentioned previously. However, Brown garnered more targets during his 2011 emergence, and his 69 receptions fell just three short of reaching the total that Wallace attained in the same season. And even though the 1,108 yards that Brown accumulated in 2011 did not quite match the 1,193 that Wallace accrued, it further indicates that Brown is fully capable of replicating Wallace’s production. There is similar evidence when comparing their 2012 numbers, as Brown collected two more catches, while his yardage total of 787 trailed Wallace by just 49. He would have delivered even more impressive totals, if not for an ankle injury that forced him to miss three contests. Wallace’s accomplishments are indelibly and prominently displayed within the Steelers’ recent receiving statistics, and Brown must perform exceptionally well in order to attain the same output. But it can be argued that he has demonstrated the potential to accomplish exactly that. Even though his career highs are lower than those of his former teammate.
Brown's Biggest Need For Improvement
There are two principal areas of growth for Brown that will be necessary for him to strengthen, before he can be considered as a perfect replacement for Wallace. First, Wallace has infiltrated the end zone with far greater frequency, having averaging eight TDs during his four years with Pittsburgh. After achieving the aforementioned career low of six as a rookie, he accumulated eight, 10 and eight respectively during his next three seasons. Those numbers either led the team, or were tied for that distinction every year that he was a Steeler. Conversely, Brown has been unable to even match Wallace’s season low, while manufacturing just seven TDs during his entire career. It should be noted that his season best of five occurred last season, and he did find the end zone in each of the final four contests. That is much closer to the level of scoring that the Steelers will require, in order for Brown to truly succeed in his new role.
Also, Wallace consistently demonstrated his value as a deep threat, averaging 17 catches of 20+, and seven receptions in excess of 40 yards during his tenure as a Steeler. In 2010 alone, he amassed 26 catches that surpassed 20 yards. Meanwhile, Brown has averaged 10 receptions of at least 20 yards during his initial three seasons. But with a mere five catches of 40+ during that span, he does not yet possess the vast amount of lengthy receptions that Wallace can display on his resume. As with the scoring total, Brown needs to improve his viability as a receiver who will consistently punish defenders further down the field, before he can become the seamless substitute for Wallace.
Can Brown Replace Wallace?
The degree of effectiveness that Brown can attain in his crucial role is uncertain, yet, is also vital for the Steeler offense to function proficiently this season. Brown’s success to this point in his career has been achieved with Wallace attracting a considerable amount of attention from opposing defenders. And Brown must now deliver exceptional numbers without the speedy Wallace lining up as a distraction. Which guarantees that the premier coverage from opposing defenses will be focused upon Brown. Also, Ben Roethlisberger’s lengthy catalog of injuries should create unease, as it includes problems with his head, shoulder, ankle, hip, hand, foot, chest, thigh, knee, and thumb. He has performed in all 16 regular season contests just once during his first nine seasons, and any additional issues that might sideline the signal caller this year would significantly hamper Pittsburgh’s offense, and negatively impact Brown’s numbers. That understandably presents reason for concern among fantasy owners. Still, Brown is clearly Pittsburgh's primary receiver. Emmanuel Sanders will perform as the Steelers’ WR2, even though he should assume Wallace’s role as the X receiver. Meanwhile, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress will perform in supplementary roles.
Overall, there is sufficient motivation to secure Brown for your rosters. Not only will he be Pittsburgh’s top receiving weapon, but his history indicates that he can collect a considerable number of receptions. That in turn should result in a yardage total that exceeds 1,110 yards. And that is a conservative forecast. While it remains incumbent upon Brown to discover the end zone with greater frequency, that should not deter you from selecting him. Brown’s current ADP is 62, but I believe that he has demonstrated enough ability to merit being selected earlier. Because 24 WRs are being selected before him, including Wallace eight slots earlier. If you find him available early in Round 5, then you should seize him for your roster.