Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson calls himself “the most electrifying man in sports entertainment”, but Antonio Brown very well could be the most polarizing man in the NFL today. AB’s personal life has spiralled out of control the past couple years. As a result, both the Steelers and Patriots showed him the door. Brown is a moral train wreck. We cover our eyes, say we should not watch, yet part our fingers to see what happens next. AB is back in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Love him or hate him, he is a relevant piece of the Buccs offence, but is he a fantasy starter?
What do we see from this 32 year old wide receiver paired with a 43 year old QB (who happens to be the GOAT)? I have rewatched every snap Antonio Brown took in the last two games of 2018, 2019 week 2 vs Miami, as well as the three games he has played in 2020. Overall I do not see that much of a drop off in speed, route running, catching ability or average depth of target (aDOT).
Still a lot left in the tank
The precision cuts and jab steps that used to make defenders fall down is long gone. We now see stutter steps and loss of momentum when changing direction. That said, his speed still surprises defenders, making them take bad angles at times resulting in missed tackles. His expert understanding of where holes are going to be in each coverage scheme allows him to find the open spot. Tom Brady made a career out of seeing those same holes and putting the ball in his receiver’s hands. Brown still has some of the best hands in the business and has already made a couple highlight reel catches.
In the New England vs Miami game, he had four catches for 56 yards and a TD on eight targets. Of those eight targets, only two were less than 10 air yards. So far as where he lined up, he was in the slot three times and outside five. More importantly, it was clear from the get go that AB was going to have some opportunities. He was only on the field for 33% of the snaps that game and still out preformed Julian Edelman (4/4/51/0).
The importance/relevance of the Miami game is that in the first three games this season, his target share and aDOT have been similar. As he gets more comfortable with TB12 and the offence, there is no reason for us to expect his production to decrease. Antonio Brown does not need a high volume of targets to produce respectable fantasy numbers. Brown is a high end WR3 with week to week upside of high end WR2/low end WR1.
The Rest of the Season Looking Up For Antonio Brown
Before you ask me what I’m smoking and if you can have some of that, let me explain. The remaining games for Brown’s fantasy season are Chiefs, Vikings, Falcons, and Lions; 3 of whom rank in the bottom third of the league in passing yards allowed. The Chiefs game should be a shootout and offer many opportunities for AB and the Buccs. As for Tom Brady, he still averages just over seven yards per attempt this season. When Brady does throw it deep Mike Evans is still the number one option; but Antonio Brown can make a great living 10 yards down the field.
There was a pre-conceived notion that Bruce Arians would always force TB12 to look deep first and work back to his shallow options; however, that has just not been the case through the first 11 weeks. The Buccs have been good this season, but still have not gelled into the well oiled machine we all expected. Part of the reason for this is that Tom Terrific has not been terrific this year. The O-line is not providing Brady much time to sit back in the pocket and look down field. The result of this is that Tom has reverted back to getting the ball out in under 3 seconds and AB is the beneficiary. Antonio Brown is a reliable mid field option who’s targets have increased each week. Week 11 saw him as the target leader with a stat line of 13/8/57/0. He also had a deep shot that was off of his fingertips in the 4th quarter, which could have been a scoring play had Brady not overthrown the ball. I do not expect 13 targets each week, but 8-10 is a reasonable expectation.
Although we have a limited workload to review, I still believe AB is an every week flex option at a minimum. If your team has been ravaged by injuries like many of mine have, he may end up as your WR2. Brown is most valuable in PPR formats, likely producing 10-15 fantasy points each week. I also foresee 20+ ppr points in at least one or two of the last four games. I predict Brown will finish the season with around 48 catches, 250 yards, and 5 touchdowns; he is definitely a fantasy starter.