Antonio Brown has been in beast mode all season.
The 5’10” speedster out of Central Michigan was not supposed to be this good the season after Mike Wallace left for the Miami Dolphins (whom the Steelers will play on Sunday with a staunch “we never needed you” attitude).
Is Antonio Brown an elite wide receiver?
In a season where Ben Roethlisberger’s receiving options were supposed to be limited, Brown has emerged as one of the top 10 receivers in the league. Through 12 games, he leads the league in receptions with 85 and is fifth in total yard with 1,103.
Here are a few big names that currently have less total yards than Brown: Demaryius Thomas, DeSean Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald. They are all considered to be elite receivers, right?
Brown only trails Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon, Andre Johnson and Alshon Jeffery in yards, but has more touchdown catches (six) than Andre Johnson and more yards after the catch (427) than all four of those guys.
During his August fantasy football preview, Grantland’s Matt Borcas called Brown “[T]he worst No. 1 receiver in football from a pure talent standpoint.” I did not heed this advice and still drafted Brown in one of my leagues. Thank god I ignored Borcas’ evaluation.
Brown racked up 184.5 fantasy points in my league, never scoring below 7.5 points and going off for 35.5 points in Week 3 against the Chicago Bears and 29.5 points in Week 11 against the Detroit Lions. I barely missed the playoffs in that league, but that was not Brown’s fault (curse you Eric Decker and your four-touchdown week).
Basically, Brown has been everything Steelers fans (and fantasy owners) could have asked for and more this season. So why is he not given the same respect as other elite receivers?
First and foremost, he is short.
Brown is also kind of a hothead. He has been known to rack up penalties for excessive celebrations and, earlier this season, publicly demanded that offensive coordinator Todd Haley call more passes for him.
Considering how vocal Brown is, he has been surprisingly anonymous in the national media. Guys like Calvin Johnson get more attention because of their ridiculous highlight reels. Then there are loudmouths like Bryant who become SportsCenter talking points because of off-the-field antics.
Brown has spent all season overcoming those deficiencies to join the ranks of the elite. He has done a pretty admirable job in all respects.
What Brown lacks in height he more than makes up for in pure speed and improved route-running skills. Just check out this ridiculous one-handed touchdown catch against the Bears for an example of Brown’s improved abilities all over the board:
Ever since that conversation with Haley, we have not heard a peep out of Brown, who is clearly happy with his role in the offense. A happy receiver is a productive one. As long as he keeps getting open and Big Ben keeps throwing his way, that should never change.
Brown also finally began to force people to take notice of him in Pittsburgh’s Week 12 matchup with the Cleveland Browns. He was locked in an intense battle all day with Browns cornerback Joe Haden, who is widely considered to be the best in the league at his position.
Brown finished the day with 92 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown reception was particularly impressive because he was blanketed by Haden and yet somehow came up with the ball. In a duel with the NFL’s best cornerback, Brown emerged victorious.
In addition to all that, Brown also has one of the most unique touchdown dances in the league. Check out this video of Brown and his son busting a move:
Brown appropriated his dance from P.A. Teezy’s “Bennie Biggle Wiggle” (yes, that sentence is as ridiculous as it sounds). For my money, it is right up there with Cruz’s salsa and anything Lions tight end Joseph Fauria has done this season.
Put this all together, and you get a legitimate No. 1 NFL wide receiver with speed, big-play potential, the ability to beat top NFL corners and a swagger that cannot be matched. Thanks to Brown, Steelers Nation does not even remember that Wallace was once a part of the organization.
Welcome to the ranks of the elite, Brown. Keep up the good work.