Fantasy Football: Is Antonio Brown a Bargain or Trap in 2021?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers added Antonio Brown as a free agent during the 2020 season, and he helped them en route to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February.

Despite joining the team in Week 9, he quickly acclimated himself to the offense. How did he stack up with his talented pass-catching teammates, though?

The Bucs are loaded again this year, and the offense features many talented mouths to feed. But can Brown carve out a substantial enough role to help fantasy football teams? Further, is he a bargain or a trap as the WR43 with an average draft position of 109.6 in point-per-reception formats, per FantasyPros?

Tampa Bay's 2020 Offense

Learning curve be damned for Tom Brady. In his first season with the Bucs, Brady lit it up.

According to Pro-Football-Reference, Tampa Bay ranked second in passing yards per game (289.1) and passing touchdowns (42) in 2020. Additionally, they ranked third in scoring offense, averaging 30.8 points per game.

Unsurprisingly, they were one of the league's most pass-happy offenses. With a scoring margin ranging from trailing by seven points to leading by seven points, Tampa Bay tied for the fourth-highest pass rate at 62 percent, per Sharp Football Stats.

A look at their personnel grouping frequency is also worthwhile when evaluating Brown's fantasy value in 2021. According to Sharp Football Stats, from Week 9 through the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers used three-receiver personnel or four-wideout sets 70 percent of the time.

Yes, O.J. Howard was injured. Regardless, Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate offered head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich the personnel to run two-tight-end sets more regularly if they wanted to.

But even with the talented trio of tight ends all in the fold this year, I expect the Bucs to lean heavily on three-or-more-receiver sets frequently in 2021, just as they did in 2020.

Comparing Wide Receivers

PlayerTgtRecRec YdsAir YdsTDTgt NEP/TgtY/Tgt
Mike Evans634063379460.629.60
Chris Godwin554056165250.589.45
Antonio Brown614548352940.507.97

The table above compares Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Brown from Week 9 through the Super Bowl. Evans and Godwin bested Brown in the efficiency, air yards, and touchdowns departments. Still, Brown wasn't a slouch. Additionally, he led the way in receptions and was second in targets among the three talented pass-catchers.

Moving beyond the stats in the table, Brown provides reasons for optimism that he still has plenty left in the tank.

According to the fantasy football leaderboard at FantasyPros, after excluding the one-game samples of DeSean Jackson and Preston Williams from Week 9 through Week 17, Brown tied for 24th in per-game point-per-reception scoring among receivers. Comparatively, Evans tied for 10th, and Godwin ranked 19th. The major takeaway from this is that the offense can support three top wideouts.

Brown also fared well in Pro Football Focus' yards per route run measures. Out of 84 receivers targeted a minimum of 50 times, Brown's 2.07 yards per route run ranked 17th-best, better than Evans at 35th and Godwin at 25th. Breaking his work down further, Brown was above average in yards per route run against man and zone coverage.

Antonio Brown's 2021 Fantasy Football Outlook

I'm not going to argue Brown should be drafted ahead of Evans or Godwin. He shouldn't be. The gap between the three receivers in average draft position is too large, though. In full point-per-reception formats, Evans has an average draft position of 39.6 (WR13), Godwin's is at 46.0 (WR18), and Brown lags way behind at 109.6 (WR43).

As I noted above, Brown ranked as a low-end WR2 in per-game point-per-reception scoring after joining the Bucs. He's being drafted as a mid-tier WR4. Even if you factor in his history of bad off-field behavior, he appears underrated. Unfortunately, none of us have a crystal ball providing clarity into when or if he'll run afoul of the National Football League's personal conduct policy. Still, on the field, he's performing at a high level.

Brown showed he could operate as a fantasy WR2 if everyone stays healthy. Yet, there's upside for more if either or both of Evans and Godwin miss games. Most of Brown's peers being drafted near him don't have the bonus of a WR1 weekly ceiling in the event of injuries ahead of them.

I'm ranking Brown as a top-35 receiver in season-long, point-per-reception formats, making him a steal at his current average draft position.

Joshua Shepardson is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Joshua Shepardson also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username bchad50. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his/her personal views, he/she may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his/her personal account. The views expressed in his/her articles are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.