Antonio Brown Has an Epic Top Comparable This Season
Over the past few years, the NFL has gone through a renaissance. More and more teams seem to be transitioning into pass-first offenses, while many squads have adopted a running back-by-committee approach to their rushing attack.
While this change in offensive philosophy goes contrary the ground-and-pound strategy that was once considered the optimal approach for the majority of NFL franchises, when you look at the analytics, it's easy to understand why so many teams are adjusting their offensive blueprint.
Our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric measures how many points an individual player adds for his team based on the expected outcome of any given situation based on historical data. When looking at NEP, the first thing you'll notice is that players most involved in the passing game have a higher NEP than those who aren't. For example, out of the top 100 players ranked in NEP, 65 were wide receivers, 20 were quarterbacks, 13 were tight ends and only 2 were running backs. Not to mention the two running backs included on this list -- Danny Woodhead and David Johnson -- were both heavily involved in the passing game.
The reason why this list breaks down the way it does is because passing is simply more efficient than rushing, which is seemingly the catalyst for this league wide offensive transition.
With high-volume passing attacks becoming the norm, there has also been a shift in the way fantasy players are approaching the early rounds of their drafts. For years it's been engrained in our minds that opening your draft by taking two running backs in the first two rounds is the smartest way to build your team, but that's not necessarily the case anymore.
Elite, target-monster wide receivers have become just as -- if not more -- valuable than their running back counterparts due to the sheer volume top-flight receivers are seeing and, with so many question marks at the position past the first 25-30 players, the idea of drafting wide receivers in the early rounds of your draft instead of running backs has become increasingly popular.
Although you can make the case for several wide receivers as the top choice in your upcoming drafts, there's one player who has stood out above the rest over the past couple seasons, and he is once again primed for another massive year in the upcoming 2016 season.
Here are a few of the reasons why you should select Antonio Brown with the number-one overall pick.
In the three seasons since Mike Wallace left Pittsburgh and Brown became the unquestioned number one receiving option, no other wide receiver has been as productive as the Steelers' star. Over the course of those three seasons, AB has converted 541 targets into 375 receptions, 5,031 yards and 31 touchdowns. For some context, take a look at how his numbers from those three seasons stack up with the other six wide receivers currently going in the first round based on ADP from fantasyfootballcalculator.com:
|Player Name||Targets||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Touchdowns|
|Odell Beckham (two-year totals)||288||187||2,755||25|
While all of these guys were able to put together a year or two with comparable production to Brown's, none of them have been able to do it year after year the way that he has. Even if you add the average total of Beckham's first two seasons, his numbers would still pale in comparison to his Pittsburgh counterpart in every category other than touchdowns.
As impressive as Brown's season totals are over the past three seasons, the level of consistency within his week to week production is even more eye popping. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, AB has recorded at least five receptions for 50 yards in all but four out of the 48 games over that span, and only one of those four games was with Ben Roethlisberger under center.
Projecting This Season
As much fun as I've had recounting Brown's prodigious numbers over the past few seasons, it's important to make the distinction between previous production and expectations for this season. Prior year success does not always equate to upcoming value.
All that said, after taking a closer look at how the situation may have changed for the Steelers' star receiver, his outlook may be even more outstanding than years past.
Although nothing has changed in terms of the quarterback, coaches, or offensive scheme, there have been a few adjustments in roster construction on the offensive side of the ball for the Steelers. Big Ben's safety blanket Heath Miller retired this offseason, and the explosive Martavis Bryant was suspended for the entire 2016 season. While Pittsburgh did bring in Ladarius Green to replace Miller, no substantial move was made to upgrade the wide receiving corps in an attempt to fill the void left by Bryant.
Green certainly has the physical gifts to contribute in a big way this season if given the opportunity, but he's unproven, having only caught 77 balls for 1,087 yards and 7 touchdowns in four seasons while playing behind Antonio Gates in San Diego. And he'll undoubtedly not have the chemistry with his quarterback the way Miller did after 11 years in Pittsburgh with Big Ben. It will take time for Green to adjust to a new offense and a new quarterback which leaves questions about how productive he can be, especially early in the season.
The tight end position is not the only place where the Steelers have question marks. Outside of Brown, the three receivers who are expected to have extended roles in the Steelers' offense -- Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey -- have combined for a total of 297 receptions for 4,195 yards and 21 touchdowns in their entire careers spanning a combined 11 seasons. These numbers don't even come close to the level of production Brown has amassed in just the past three seasons alone.
Considering Todd Haley remains at the helm for the Steelers' offense, we can expect another high-volume passing season for Pittsburgh and, considering the lack of trust-worthy options in the passing game, our algorithm projects an absolutely monstrous season from Brown this season. In fact, our top player comparable for Brown based on historical data is Marvin Harrison's 2002, the year in which he set the single-season receptions mark while hauling in 143 catches for 1,722 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Given his insane consistency, lack of competition for targets and overall talent, Brown possess the rare combination of a high floor and massive upside you are looking for with the first overall selection on draft day. Pencil him in atop your draft board and don't look back.