Two Wide Receivers, Two Very Different Starts

Antonio Brown is on pace for 131 receptions this year.

Marques Colston has averaged 83 receptions for every 16 games played since entering the league in 2006. He’s always a lock to reach 1,000 yards receiving, and because of his quarterback, he’ll usually find the end zone seven or eight times in a single year.

On the flip side, Antonio Brown hasn’t shown the same type of dependability over the course of his three-plus year NFL career. He certainly didn’t have the prolific rookie campaign that Colston did, and battled injury in 2012 after making the Pro Bowl as the first player in NFL history with both 1,000 yards receiving and returning in a single season. It’s been a short time in the NFL so far, but most definitely an up-and-down one for Brown.

This year, however, things are different. Colston’s become an absolute headache for fantasy owners, while Brown’s turned into arguably the most consistent, trustworthy wideout in fantasy football.

It now begs the question: Is the production from these receivers what we should expect in 2013, or will these wideouts regress to their typical form?

Colston’s Fall is All About Touchdowns

Back in July, I mentioned that there were only three certainties in life: death, taxes and Marques Colston’s fantasy production. Man, I thought I was supposed to be a fantasy football analyst. So much for that.

What’s happened to our always-trustworthy Colston? After six games, he’s posted just 24 receptions for 324 receiving yards, including three catches for just 26 yards over the last two weeks. He hasn’t been Marques Colston-dependable. If anything, he’s been Kenny Britt-like: completely unpredictable.

But there’s reason to believe things can turn around. Entering Week 6, Colston ranked 26th among the 81 10-plus reception wide receivers in reception net expected points, a measure that shows how many points a player has added for his team above or below expectation through receptions. On a per target basis, his ranking was 17th. That actually is right on target with regards to his historical production. And while that position will drop a bit due to his one-reception, 11-yard performance in Week 6 and his bye in Week 7, it should be noted that his efficiency scores haven't necessarily been as poor as his fantasy ones.

So why has he been such a depressing receiver to own in fake football? Touchdowns. Colston has just a single score through the first six games this year, giving him an extrapolated 2.66-touchdown season. He’s averaged about .57 touchdowns per game throughout his career, which equates to over nine touchdowns per season. If we think of this in terms of fantasy points, instead of Colston getting 54 of them from only touchdowns over the course of a 16-game season, he's on pace to get 16 points from touchdowns. That 38-point difference may seem insignificant, but that's what separates a low-end WR1 in fantasy from a low-end WR2.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see him progress towards his mean as he plays more games and gathers a larger sample. He's just gotten off to a slow scoring start.

We must remember, too, that Colston isn’t immune to posting middling weekly numbers. Just a season ago, he had four 3-reception games, two of which went for fewer than 50 yards and zero scores. He only posted three games over 73 yards, too. Touchdowns, of course, were the reason Colston finished as a low-end WR1 last season.

Antonio Brown is a PPR Machine

A player moving in the opposite direction from Colston is Steelers wideout Antonio Brown. A fifth- or sixth-rounder in most fantasy drafts this year, Brown is currently on pace for over 131 receptions and has 30 catches over his last three games alone.

The best part about Brown’s production thus far is that he’s not just catching balls on screens and falling over. In terms of reception net expected points, Antonio ranks 12th among double-digit reception receivers, and 24th on a per target basis. In other words, he’s done more for the Steelers than over 85 percent of wideouts in the league. It makes sense, too, as Brown has 15 receptions for 216 yards this season on third down alone.

Many will point at Brown’s reception totals and say that it’s due to the Steelers being down in games, but it’s not. Though the Steelers have trailed for the majority of the 2013 season, Brown has still caught 11 of his 41 passes while Pittsburgh was leading in a game, and another 11 when they were down by just 1-8 points. And in yesterday’s game against the Jets, one where the Steelers led for the majority, Brown secured a nine-reception, 86-yard stat line.

His monster Week 3 performance against the Bears has been a clear outlier, but even without touchdowns in any other contest, Brown still has had at least 8.7 half-point PPR points in every game this year. He’s a target machine in an offense that throws short, quick passes. Unlike Colston, Brown’s fantasy output has little to do with touchdowns, giving way to a higher fake football floor.

Rest of Season Value

Given history, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense for Marques Colston to continue this type of production. He’s hit gaps in his stat lines in season’s past, but typically he’ll have a few monster games that bring him into top wide receiver fantasy relevance. Unfortunately for his owners, he hasn’t really had one yet.

Because of his body of work, it could be a good time to buy low on the receiver. The Saints do have a bye this week, so if you’re sitting pretty at 6-0 or 5-1, you may be able to afford to have him on your bench after a trade while your squad continues to win. Before the games started this week, Colston was our 11th-best receiver through the end of the season.

Antonio Brown should move backwards a tad, as no one should ever be expected to catch 131 balls in a season. However, keep in mind that Brown has been the one constant in the Steelers offense, and isn’t the only solid option for Ben Roethlisberger. Emmanuel Sanders can stretch the field and do some things with the ball himself, and Heath Miller’s revival as a top tight end should help ease pressure from Brown. A 100-reception season is not even close to out of the question for Number 84. Target him in every PPR league you’re in.