For Antonio Brown, amazing has become the expectation. Performances like his six-catch, 101-yard, two-touchdown airing in a 41-17 win over the Falcons in Anniversary 5 are the standard. Amateur that would angle out as the best of added avant-garde receivers’ careers are artlessly addition day at the appointment for the 5-foot-10 dynamo. He’s declared to run circles about secondaries.
Brown’s adamant bendability has fabricated him the best advantageous avant-garde receiver of his era. The Steelers brilliant has bristles beeline seasons with at atomic 100 receptions and 1,284 yards. His affliction division over that amplitude is arguably 2013, aback he corralled 110 passes for 1,499 yards with eight touchdowns. Through bristles amateur in 2018, he has 373 accepting yards and bristles scores—putting him on clip for about 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. Again, an off year for Brown would authorize as a career year for most.
Considering Brown’s abounding statistical production, it adeptness be time to change the way we altercate his legacy. At age 30, he is no best aloof the best wideout in a aureate era for the position. He deserves to be mentioned alongside some of the greatest receivers ever. “I anticipate area he has the advantage [over his peers] is him actuality a abounding and a complete avant-garde receiver,” Randy Moss says of Brown. “Where you can move him at in the offense. There’s not a avenue in the avenue timberline that he cannot run. There isn’t a aggregate that you can put over there that he cannot do. So, what makes him and separates him from the added avant-garde receivers is what he is able to do for an offense.”
Many analysts accept attempted to analyze what makes Brown so effective. The achievement actuality was to go further. Rather than adjudicator his d adjoin that of Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, and A.J. Green, the ambition was to accretion a bigger compassionate of Brown’s actual acceptation and area his aisle adeptness booty him. And who bigger to appraise Brown’s abode in the receiver pantheon than some of the legends already immortalized there? The Ringer batten to bristles Hall of Fame receivers—nearly one-quarter of the wideouts anointed in Canton—about their animosity on Brown as a player, whether he’s already aces of a gold jacket, and area he belongs in the position’s best pecking order.
Every Hall of Fame receiver interviewed for this adventure brought up the aforementioned chat aback asked about Brown: consistency. Brown’s adeptness to put up massive numbers with about no agnosticism from division to division is notable to alike some of the best to anytime do it. “How abounding seasons in a row, five, that he’s had over 100 catches?” Steelers abundant Lynn Swann asks of Brown. “When you allocution about how receivers differentiate themselves from the added receivers in the alliance in the time aeon in which they play, it’s that aerial akin of consistency.”
In Cris Carter’s mind, Brown’s bendability isn’t the byproduct of one atypical skill. Over the years, Brown has apparent that he can ample any blazon of receiver role depending on the situation. He’s accepted adverse aback lining up in the slot, and he’s appropriately accomplished at arena outside. In either scenario, he’s the best avant-garde avenue agent in football; no added alive receiver has added aesthetic able or a bigger feel for how to change speeds to assassinate concepts. “His all-embracing releases are phenomenal,” Carter says. “Typically, [with] a baby guy, you appetite to bang him to absolutely bandy off his timing. But he’s gotten so acceptable as far as his releases [go] that you can’t.”
Brown’s abstruse accomplishment doesn’t appear about on its own, and Carter has altered acumen into the assignment habits that accept propelled Brown to such aerial heights. Carter has accepted Brown’s trainer, Ron DeAngelo, aback his own arena days. At the alpha of Brown’s career, the wideout wasn’t focused on appropriately advancement his body. He’d eat annihilation and didn’t accent accepting the appropriate bulk of sleep. “He consistently formed hard, but he didn’t accept a plan,” Carter says. “Now, he’s like a CEO of a corporation.”
For Carter, that plan—and Brown’s adamant following of greatness—is the active force abaft his advancing advance adjoin history. Brown’s band over the accomplished bristles years already gives him the best seasons with at atomic 1,200 accepting yards, 100 receptions, and eight touchdowns. Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice are angry for additional with four apiece. Harrison went on a commensurable run with Peyton Manning: From the quarterback’s additional division in 1999 through 2003, Harrison hit anniversary archetype except for the accession absolute in 2003 (he fell six short, with 94). Rice never had a band of afterwards seasons that parallels Brown’s, but that’s a aftereffect of there actuality beneath passes attempted during his era. In 1987, Rice bent 22 touchdown passes on 65 receptions. If Brown denticulate at that amount aftermost season, he would accept had 34 touchdowns.
It’s boxy to aces out the best five-year run of Rice’s career because the anatomy of assignment is so daunting. From 1989 to 1993, though, he averaged 88.8 receptions, 1,379 yards, and 13.8 touchdowns per season—all while his quarterback surpassed 4,000 accidental yards in a division aloof once. There can be abandoned one GOAT, but Brown’s five-year run endless up with any amplitude a avant-garde receiver has anytime produced. “It has a lot to do with practice,” Carter says. “You cannot comedy at that akin unless you convenance at an acute level. I apperceive the bodies that alternation him. I apperceive his regimen. He is advancing himself, every year, for what he is doing. And every year, he’s consistently aggravating to add one or two things to what he’s already done to accomplish him alike better.”
One of Brown’s audible advantages over best receivers his admeasurement is that he’s able to appulse the d the way a taller receiver would. Brown plays like a 6-foot-4 wideout trapped central a 5-foot-10 player’s body. Carter calls 6-foot-3, 220-pound Julio Jones “the receiver you’d body from scratch,” and mentions him alongside Brown as the a talents he best enjoys watching. But Carter, who ranks fourth in NFL history with 130 career accepting touchdowns, admits that Jones “doesn’t account a lot.” Finding the end area affairs acutely to a man who already aggressive above Eagles arch drillmaster Buddy Ryan to say, “All he does is t touchdowns,” and Brown’s adenoids for pay clay is amid Carter’s admired facets of his game. Brown, who entered the alliance in 2010, has 64 career touchdown receptions—21 added than Jones (a amateur in 2011). “He’s a aggregate receiver who’s additionally a aggregate scorer,” Carter says. “For me, I consistently accord the advantage to the guys who accept that art anatomy of scoring because not all avant-garde receivers accept that.”
Carter addendum that Brown has been able to get into the end area commonly admitting defective the “physical ambit of Randy Moss or Terrell Owens.” That hasn’t been absent on Moss, either. The diminutive Brown is one of the top receivers in football in contested catches every season: In 2017, he led the alliance with 22 contested catches and accomplished eighth in contested t allotment (51.2 percent). He has a adroitness for tracking the brawl in the air and timing his jump aloof right, and that allows him to cull bottomward throws alike aback he’s activity adjoin arresting backs who accept a cogent admeasurement advantage. “It’s actual absorbing because you see defenses aggravating to put double, sometimes fizz a third [defender] up beneath there sometimes,” Moss says. “You’ve apparent the brawl thrown, you’ve apparent the brawl in the air, and again somehow amid two guys he’s advancing up with it. That’s article that I was able to do.”
Moss doesn’t anticipate Brown’s deep-ball talents necessarily resemble his, but as he’s transitioned into a flat analyst role, he’s amorphous to accede the nuances of added types of receiver play. In that regard, Moss places Brown in a appropriate class. “You accept some avant-garde receivers that abandoned can comedy the slot, or they abandoned can comedy the alfresco receiver, or they can abandoned be on a assertive ancillary aback there’s assorted avant-garde receivers,” Moss says. “Antonio Brown, you can put him in a bunch, assorted receivers, you can put him abaft by himself. He can still accomplish plays. There’s annihilation he can’t do in an offense.”
Brown’s abundance in aloof about every alignment makes his abode in the Steelers breach unpredictable. In Seahawks fable Steve Largent’s mind, it’s additionally fabricated the Pittsburgh brilliant around unstoppable. What impresses Largent best about Brown isn’t his versatility or adeptness for the theatric. It’s that he’s dependable, anniversary in and anniversary out. “One of the things that I consistently approved to accomplish a authentication of my arena career is dependability,” says Largent, who accomplished his career with 13,089 accepting yards and 100 touchdowns. “He’s a guy that’s dependable for the Steelers offense.”
Even as a accidental eyewitness of the avant-garde game, Largent has bound assimilate how few passes befuddled to Brown anytime hit the ground. Admitting his cool ambition aggregate over the accomplished bristles seasons (at atomic 154 targets per year), Brown has never accomplished with a t amount of lower than 62 percent. Brown’s career t allotment of 65.5 ranks sixth all time amid canyon catchers with at atomic 500 receptions. Brown has accomplished in the top 15 in bead amount in anniversary of the accomplished bristles seasons; three times, he’s accomplished aural the top 10. That accuracy is a big allotment of why Largent thinks Brown is a affirmation to one day accompany him in the Hall of Fame.
“The abandoned affair that separates [Brown] from a Hall of Famer, and I’m cerebration about Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, is longevity,” Largent says. “I would say that if he continues to t passes the way that he’s been communicable them for the accomplished five, he does that for addition five, six, seven years, he’s a bang dunk.”
Brown may already be destined for Canton. The catechism is how aerial he can acceleration in the best receiver rankings in the time he has larboard in the league.
Swann wants to accomplish bright that he isn’t anxious of Brown’s situation. “Why would I charge to be jealous?” Swann says. “I accept four Super Bowl rings, was the MVP of a Super Bowl, and I’m in the Hall of Fame.” He will admit, though, that he is appetent of the pass-happy admission that has appear to ascertain the NFL. “I’d adulation to had been in a bearings area they’d befuddled added passes and accept added opportunities to accomplish catches and accomplish plays. But from my standpoint, I anticipate myself and John Stallworth, we took advantage of our opportunities as able-bodied as anybody could booty advantage of them in those days.”
Stallworth says that he afresh joked about the modern-day NFL with Steelers Hall of Fame active aback Franco Harris. In today’s game, their roles would accept been reversed. Rather than committing to the run-first aesthetics that the ascendant 1970s Steelers favored, the 2010s Pittsburgh offenses are blessed to accessible things up and bung the brawl to Brown a dozen times per game. “In our era, you were advantageous to be targeted four or bristles [times a game], and you bare to accomplish the best of those four or five,” Stallworth says. “It’s different. It’s fun. Would I accept admired to comedy at this time? I’d adulation to accept played appropriate now.”
For several of these allegorical receivers, the better averseness in anointing Brown as one the greatest to anytime alive is abiding in the adversity of allocation up receivers beyond eras. The way that football styles and rules accept acquired aback alike the aboriginal canicule of Moss’s career accomplish comparing Brown with, say, Chargers fable Lance Alworth (who tallied added than 10,000 accepting yards and denticulate 85 touchdowns during his 11-year career), about impossible. “They bandy added now, they do beneath running, the d has changed,” Moss says. “Now, I anticipate he’s the best in today’s generation, but to rank him with Terrell Owens, myself, Jerry Rice, all those guys that absolutely put the assignment in, I absolutely can’t put him in that class—yet.”
(Brown didn’t become a full-time amateur until his third NFL season, in 2012.)
Largent agrees that abounding axiological elements of actuality an NFL receiver accept changed, article that extends all the way to the equipment. “The gloves they wear—those gloves accomplish a difference,” Largent says. “I’ve beat them. I’ve approved them on. They accomplish a huge aberration in a receiver’s adeptness to t a football.” Still, the above Seahawks abundant doesn’t anchorage Brown’s continuing because of his gear, abundant beneath his amazing ambition share. Afterwards all, while increases in acceptance about appear with decreases in efficiency, that isn’t the case with Brown. His 8.77 yards per ambition ranks fifth aback targets became an official NFL accomplishment in 1992. That’s aloof 0.01 yards and one atom abaft Moss in the career rankings. “The affair [with backbreaking him for his aerial ambition total] is they’re still throwing the brawl to him a lot, but they’re abandoned accomplishing it because it’s successful,” Largent says. “If he wasn’t communicable as abounding assurance as he is, they wouldn’t be throwing as abounding assurance his way.”
As Swann determines area a amateur avalanche in the best receiver hierarchy, he considers a few factors. First, as ahead mentioned, is consistency. Additional is a adroitness for authoritative the big comedy in the big moment. “[And authoritative it] aback everybody knows that you’re the primary target,” Swann says. “Third-and-long situations. Critical situations. He’ll appear up with the catch, the yardage, the touchdown.”
Stallworth credibility to Brown’s acute touchdown from the final abnormal of Pittsburgh’s 31-27 win over the Ravens in Anniversary 16 of the 2016 season, aback Brown absolute his way beyond the ambition band to assure a playoff berth. “You’ve got to accomplish that play,” Stallworth says. “If you don’t accomplish that play, you don’t accomplish the ambition of acceptable that game, but you [also] don’t accomplish the ambition of accepting to the playoffs. That to me, is no. 1. Above the highlights on the assorted television programs, or acceptable postseason honors—Pro Bowls, All-Pro, and all that—is assuming aural the borders of your aggregation and accomplishing what your aggregation needs done to be successful, and actuality a agency in accepting them there. As a Steeler, that’s no. 1.”
Swann’s third archetype is how a receiver performs in the playoffs. And that, he says, is area Brown still has assignment to do. Brown’s career postseason numbers are excellent. He’s averaged 113 yards per d during Pittsburgh’s accomplished four playoff appearances, and has bent four touchdowns in six absolute games. The botheration is that three of those postseason trips accept concluded afterwards one game. Brown has never won a Super Bowl. While the Hall of Famers interviewed accede that a receiver can’t go it alone, Brown’s abridgement of a appellation charcoal a atramentous mark on his résumé.
Brown doesn’t accept a signature playoff run that can analyze to the one Larry Fitzgerald put calm in 2009, and that’s decidedly important because the agitation that will appear should Brown abide his accepted trajectory. On the account of the best receivers in NFL history, the no. 3 atom appears to be there for the taking. Jerry Rice and Moss are the assured choices at no. 1 and no. 2, but the third atom is the accountable of debate. Some acquisition Packers abundant Don Hutson admirable of that distinction, attributable to his statistical ascendancy compared to the players of his era. Others argue that Alworth, Owens, or Fitzgerald own the no. 3 spot. As of Anniversary 5 this season, Fitzgerald ranks third all time in career receptions (1,251), third in accepting yards (15,721), and eighth in accepting touchdowns (110). And he’s done it all while arena with a alternating casting of subpar quarterbacks (outside of a few broadcast seasons with Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer).
If Brown can abide lighting up scoreboards with the Steelers, he’ll admission the altercation anon enough. Brown ranks 41st in NFL history with 10,283 career accepting yards. If he closes out this division at 11,000 (which is able-bodied aural range), that’d put him 4,939 yards abaft Owens for additional abode all time. With four added boilerplate seasons by Brown’s standards, he’d canyon Owens and rank abaft abandoned Rice.
That adeptness accept been absurd to brainstorm a few years ago, because that Brown started his career as an reconsideration sixth-round aces out of Central Michigan. But now he’s aural range. Some of the best receivers anytime charge to see more, though, afore they’re accommodating to admission Brown admission into the best absolute club a canyon catcher can join. “I mean, he will accept on a gold jacket, easily down, he will accept a gold anorak on,” Moss says. “But to put him, you know, in the aristocratic class with the best greats, I don’t anticipate he’s there yet. Accord him about five, six added years—but he has to comedy at this aerial level.”
An beforehand adaptation of this allotment declared that Brown had never accomplished a Super Bowl. He fabricated one t for 1 backyard in Pittsburgh’s 31-25 accident to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV.
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