What the Analytics Say About Antonio Brown's Awesomeness
In the new-age NFL, wide receivers are ever increasing in importance. Having matchup-proof targets can allow a significant edge each and every play, but at 5'10'', 186 pounds, Antonio Brown doesn't look like a guy who can best any cornerback opposite him on a given play.
But his game log sure says he can.
In Pittsburgh's nine games so far, Brown has five games with at least 100 receiving yards.
In one-third of those games, Brown has had at least 131 receiving yards.
He hasn't had fewer than 84 yards in a single game.
He has scored in five of his nine games, and has two touchdowns in three of them.
In all but three games, his longest catch was 30 yards. His longest reception is 54 yards.
He isn't just catching long bombs and inflating his numbers.
He's doing it with volume and has been targeted fewer than 10 times just once all season - Week 1 against the Browns.
Sometimes, the box score can be deceiving, but it's not the case for Brown.
At numberFire, we tend to center our analysis on Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP indicates how many points a player or team earns above what is expected of an average player or team. For Brown, he is way above expectation.
So, while it's easy point to the fact that Brown led all receivers in catches (60) and targets (87) entering Week 9, this may not be entirely reflective of how much he is helping the team if the production comes well after the game is decided. However, Brown's NEP metrics were quite impressive entering the week as well.
Entering Week 9, Brown had the highest Reception NEP, which measures points added over expectation from only receptions, in the league. His Reception NEP of 73.29 led all players, and the Steelers saw good returns when Brown was targeted. His Target NEP of 45.50 was fifth among all receivers.
With season highs in receptions (11), targets (16), and yards (144), Brown added to his already impressive raw stat line, but his NEP scores saw a boost, too. Brown's Reception NEP against the Ravens was 13.26. While he scored just once, his production gave the Steelers nearly two full touchdowns and extra points toward their final score. His Target NEP, 9.75, was also very crucial for the Steelers to pull ahead of Baltimore.
Stacking Up Against the League
Brown, despite not having the physical prowess that most of the league's elite receivers seem to possess, leads the pack most of the analytics and raw production. Here's how he fares in our metrics compared to the other 11 receivers in the top 12 of Reception NEP entering the Week. The table reflects updated numbers through Week 9.
|Player||Height||Weight||Rec||Rec NEP||Tar||Tar NEP||Rec NEP/Tar||Catch Rate|
The biggest takeaway, aside from the fact that the short guys are hanging around with the huge receivers, is that Brown still leads the league in Reception NEP through nine weeks. He has yet to have his bye, of course, but his continued success is neither flukey - based on unsustainable big plays - nor fruitless - coming during garbage time. He is playing like one of the single-most important players in football, and he's doing it consistently.
Brown's Target NEP jumped to 55.25, which is atop the league, and his catch rate, despite his absurd target total, is third among this productive group of receivers. Good things happen when he gets the ball thrown his way.
Further, Brown has extended his lead in receptions (71), targets (103), and yards (996). He is also tied for third in the league in receiving touchdowns with eight, so the raw production is certainly there, too, making Brown more than just an analytics darling.
Brown isn't just hanging with the league's best. He is one. Not only do the raw numbers say so but also the analytics are on his side - even if his physical traits don't quite scream elite wide receiver.