Fantasy Football: The Impact of the Antonio Brown Trade
The silliness of the NFL offseason got a little less silly on Saturday night, with the news that the Pittsburgh Steelers were trading disgruntled wide receiver Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for 3rd and 5th round draft picks. On top of that, there was the small matter of Brown receiving a whopping new contract, guaranteeing him $30.125 million over the next three years (and potentially more through incentives).
While the Twitterverse has been awash with people surprised by the move, people slamming the Steelers for essentially giving away the best wide receiver in the game, and people connecting the dots to a possible Brown-Le'Veon Bell reunion in Oakland, have we been paying enough attention to the player himself?
Despite Brown's age (He'll be 31 when the 2019 season starts), not to mention his recent highlighted off-the-field antics, the Raiders have landed one of the genuine superstars of the NFL. Another big season could be in store, even in his the new surroundings.
Best in the Business
Arguably the second-most highly regarded 6th round draft pick of the 21st century (after some guy named Tom Brady), Brown has been the most dominant wide receiver in the NFL since his breakout sophomore season in 2011. His numbers speak for themselves and are as good as anyone to has ever played the game.
|PPR Points||2,379.5||1st (among non-QBs)|
Since 2013, Browns floor for any season has a 25% target share, 101 receptions, 1,284 yards and 8 touchdowns. That's his floor. Since the dawn of the 21st Century, the most receptions in a single season by any Raiders player was 92 (Jerry Rice in 2002). Rice amassed 1,211 yards in that season, too. While Michael Crabtree scored nine touchdowns in 2015, they were the most by any Raider since 2004, when Jerry Porter also visited the end zone nine times.
Brown is used to shouldering a heavy load in the passing game, and given the current state of the Raiders wide receiver depth chart there is no reason to suppose that he will go hungry looking for work. He projects to see the highest target share of any player since Derek Carr became the starting quarterback in 2014. The current high point is the 23.62% commanded by Crabtree in 2016. Last season, Jordy Nelson led all Oakland wide receivers with a modest 17% of the team targets.
Model of Efficiency
For all his targets, Brown has also been a model of efficiency over the years. At numberFire, we use a metric called Net Expected Points, or NEP. (For more information, check out our glossary) As the table below shows, between 2013-2017 Brown was consistent in his appearance among the league's best on a per-play basis, despite receiving copious volume in the shape of targets.
|Season||Targets||Rank||Target NEP per Target||Rank|
It should be noted that 2018 did see something of a dip from Brown, however. While again commanding the second-most targets in the NFL, his Target NEP per target dropped to 0.20, the lowest of his career. Still, this drop in efficiency was overcome by sheer volume. Brown finished ninth in receiving yards with 1,297, in just 15 games played.
Brown has also proven adept at creating his own yards after the catch rather than simply relying on getting the ball far enough down the field through the air. In the last two seasons, Brown has a combined total of 2,830 receiving yards. According to PlayerProfiler, 864 of these yards have come after the catch, or 30.5%.
Brown's ability to rack up YAC could offer something of a boost for Derek Carr, who had to amass 51.7% of his total passing yards (4,049) via his own arm. Brown's former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, saw nearly 53% of his league-leading 5,129 yards created by players after the ball had left his hand and been secured by his pass catchers.
In addition to catching a lot of passes, Brown has made visiting the end zone something of a habit. His 15 touchdowns last season led the NFL and marked the fourth time in the last five seasons that he had 10 or more scores in a single season; that is the third-most such seasons since 2000.
Brown has become one of the best red zone weapons in the NFL, despite his relatively small stature. He stands a mere 5'10" and tips the scales at 186 pounds. This didn't stop the Steelers looking for him in the scoring area though. Brown had 23 red zone receptions in the last two seasons, with 12 touchdowns to his credit. Over this same span, Raiders players had 64 red zone grabs combined, with 27 touchdowns in the 2017-2018 seasons.
In summary, while we should expect a slight downgrade for Brown, at least in terms of surrounding talent, there are enough reasons to expect him to continue to operate as one of the most productive wide receivers in the game. He shouldn't have too much competition for targets, even if the team does re-sign tight end Jared Cook. His ability to make his own yards will ensure that Carr will be motivated to get the ball out of his own hands quickly and into the waiting hands of Brown.
Way back in the distant past, the Raiders took a chance on a player coming of a Hall of Fame run with another team, despite his age being seen as a hindrance. Jerry Rice repaid their faith with 243 receptions for 3,286 yards (18 touchdowns) in his three seasons -- mind you from age 39 to 41. Brown is a mere whippersnapper at 31.
It is said that fortune favors the bold, and the Raiders have certainly been bold in acquiring Brown. Let us see what fortune awaits.