One year ago, Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown was the No. 1 overall pick in a great many fantasy football drafts – enough that his average draft position (ADP) at My Fantasy League was No. 1. He was the top dog. The big kahuna.
However, despite a fourth straight season of 100 catches and a third straight top fantasy finish at his position, Brown’s ADP has dropped in 2017. He’s being taken behind a trio of top tailbacks in Arizona’s David Johnson, Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott.
Now, Brown will probably swap spots with Elliott – assuming that the suspension talk surrounding the second-year tailback is more than just, well, talk. But that’s likely as high as he’ll go.
However, there are a couple reasons why if you’re the lucky owner who lands the No. 1 overall pick in your fantasy draft you should consider bucking that trend and making Brown the first player off the board in your league.
EXHIBIT A: Mr. Brown Goes to Town
The first reason is easy – over the past four seasons, Antonio Brown has been really, really good. So good, in fact, that it’s safe to question if he’s a person or a pass-catching android sent from the future to crush the spirit of the Earth’s defensive backs in advance of an alien invasion.
Since breaking out with 110 receptions for nearly 1,500 receiving yards back in 2013, Brown has been wildly productive for fantasy owners. He’s also been almost robotically consistent and durable – he’s missed all of one game over the past four years.
In four straight campaigns, Brown has caught at least 106 passes, topped 1,250 receiving yards and found the end zone at least eight times. His average season over that span is just staggering – 120 receptions, 1,579 yards and 10.8 touchdowns.
That breaks down to 7.5 receptions for 98.7 yards and .7 touchdowns per game. In points per reception (PPR) scoring systems, that’s 21.5 fantasy points per game. Every game. For four seasons. There isn’t a receiver or running back in football who can sniff that sort of consistent production over that span.
Yes, Brown’s 106 catches and 1,284 yards a season ago were his lowest numbers in those categories during his four-year reign over the wide receivers – in part because he missed a game and in part because the 29-year-old was without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for two games.
But even in that “down” season Brown was the No. 1 fantasy receiver in PPR scoring systems by more than a point per game. He was the highest-scoring fantasy receiver in standard scoring on a points per game basis. And his points per game in leagues that award a point for catches was only one off that four-year average.
In addition, Brown’s annually one of the most-targeted wideouts in the NFL. Over the last four years Brown has averaged 11 targets per game every game. He hasn’t finished lower than fifth in the NFL in that regard – last year, when he was targeted a ho-hum 154 times.
Also, while Pittsburgh added a capable young slot receiver in the 2017 NFL Draft in Juju Smith-Schuster and get deep threat Martavis Bryant back from suspension this year, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Brown.
As a matter of fact, per Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post, Bryant’s return should be good news for Brown’s fantasy prospects.
“With Bryant on the field,” he said, “opposing defenses won’t be able to bracket Brown with a corner and a safety in a 2-Man (Man Under), or Cover 5 formation, taking away Pittsburgh’s short and deep passing game. Brown was already the best among No. 1 wideouts at creating daylight between him and his defenders last season, averaging 2.92 yards of separation per NFL.com’s fantasy expert, Matt Harmon, so having Bryant back will only get him better looks.”
“According to Anthony Amico of Rotoviz,” Greenberg continued, “Brown averaged 25 PPR points per game with Bryant in the lineup, a 400-point pace over a full season, compared to 21 PPR points per game with Bryant out of uniform. In games where those two receivers were joined by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell, Brown averaged almost 24 PPR points per game, a 378-point pace.”
There’s no such thing as a 100 percent bust-proof player. But Brown’s as close to one as you’re going to get.
And when you don’t get another pick until the end of Round 2, having a player you know all but certainly won’t fall flat (or even come close) in your pocket can be a very big deal.