Disclaimer: I like Antonio Brown a lot. He is a very good football player, who is often exciting to watch. I was happy when the Steelers re-signed him while letting Mike Wallace go. That being said, it is my understanding that George was also fond of Lennie.
In 2013, with Mike Wallace out of town, Antonio Brown had himself a career season. He finished the year with 110 receptions for 1,499 yards and 8 touchdowns, the kind of numbers that make a mother proud. In fantasy, this translated to WR3 in PPR, and WR5 in points per game. For a little guy, he was kind of a big deal.
I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said death and taxes are inevitable. For Antonio Brown, we can add regression to that list.
I suppose I should start with why it even matters that Antonio Brown is going to regress. He is currently being drafted as WR8, around the 20th overall pick. Anecdotally, in my last three drafts he was drafted at 2.02, 2.03, and 2.02 again. Last year, he was drafted as WR23 as an early fifth round pick. I would recommend caution anytime someone’s ADP increases that much after their fourth year in the NFL. It’s not like we completely misjudged him as a player. The truth of where he should be drafted is probably somewhere in between those two extremes.
Let’s turn to old reliable, the AYA App.1 Ben Roethlisberger targeted Brown a whopping 166 times last year. Only Pierre Garcon, Andre Johnson, and A.J. Green were targeted more in 2013. It’s tempting to think that Brown will manage to see even more targets next year now that Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders have departed in free agency, along with their 188 targets, but it’s unlikely. A now-healthy sophomore Markus Wheaton, rookie Martavis Bryant, and free agency additions Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey may have something to say about that. Le’Veon Bell, a talented receiving RB, missed three games last year. Heath Miller missed two games himself. Reportedly, they are kicking the tires on Jermichael Finley. If anything there will be more mouths2 to feed in 2014.
In 2013, Antonio Brown scored 8 receiving TDs. Prior to that, he had scored 7 receiving TDs. I don’t mean he scored 7 TDs in 2012; I mean he scored 7 receiving TDs in his first three years combined. For his career, he has scored TDs on only 5.75% of his receptions. By that standard, he was only expected to score 6.325 TDs last year, so he actually over-performed. Prior to 2013, he only scored TDs on 2.8% of his receptions. By that standard, we would have only expected him to score 3.08 TDs last year. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but it’s ugly on both sides. Again, it’s tempting to think that since Jerricho Cotchery scored 10 TDs last year, Brown might be able to snag some of those. But Brown only had one redzone touchdown on 23 targets. It’s just not his forte.
As for just general efficiency, Roethlisberger had an AYA of 8.84 when targeting Brown last year. He also had an AYA of 8.84 when targeting Cotchery. Now Brown had more targets, and you expect AYA to decrease as targets increase, and Cotchery scored at an unsustainable rate, but that’s still too close for comfort. Prior to last year, Roethlisberger only had an AYA of 8.30 when targeting Brown. Brown over-performed across the board in 2013. You know how I mentioned Garcon and Green had more targets than Brown earlier? They both made my AYA Red Flag Team, and the truth is, I almost included Brown on that list. Everything I know about Brown suggests that his 2013 success was not only volume-driven, but that he was performing at an unsustainable level as well.
Let’s double-check all this with the WR Similarity Score App. What I’m about to say is going to sound crazy, so stick with me, okay? Brown’s high-end PPR projection is a very good 19.3 points per game, and that’s bad news. The reason? He scored 19.3 points per game in 2013, so that means the app thinks he’s already reached his peak. Ergo, it’s all downhill from here. Here’s the plot of his comps from the app:
Right away, you see odds are that he declines. The three players who improved their output were Torry Holt, Randy Moss, and Chad Johnson; As a general rule, I don’t like it when a player’s positive comps are all superior players. The issue is further compounded for Brown in that those same talents also show up as negative comps.
Brown is a classic sell-high. I actually believe he could perform at a similar level next year, I just think it is very unlikely. Even if he does, it will never become his standard, and it’s probably better to be a year-early than a year-late in his case. In redraft, this means you should likely never draft him in 2014. If he’s on your team in dynasty, try to sell him now. You’ll likely be able to get someone like Michael Floyd or DeAndre Hopkins plus a little extra fairly easily. You may even be able to pull off a similar trade and get Jordy Nelson. You could also try to package him to get someone like Dez Bryant or A.J. Green.
Brown’s 2014 projection is bleak. Try to think of something happier, like I don’t know, rabbits.