The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will wide receiver Antonio Brown become the first wide receiver to hit the 2000-yard mark in 2016?
There is no denying that seventh-year Steelers veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown has been on a rather remarkable run over the span of the last few years. Season after season, he has continued to defy expectations by bettering his own numbers in ways that seem to boggle the mind, pushing our understanding of what a wide receiver is capable of achieving in today’s game.
But even that may not be enough for the three-time All-Pro to achieve a feat that has never been reached before by anybody in the history of the NFL, which is to record the first ever 2000-receiving-yard season. The Hall of Fame is littered with wide receivers who have never even come close.
Only a handful have even come within visual range of that target, and Jerry Rice’s 1848 yards stood for years until it was surpassed by Calvin Johnson in recent years, hitting a tantalizingly close 1949 yards. Brown was one of two players to join the rather exclusive 1800-yard club last season with 1834 yards, the fourth-most in NFL history, but that was still 166 yards shy of 2000.
It is true that his production dropped off precipitously when the Steelers face turmoil at the quarterback position, and that, when healthy, Ben Roethlisberger helped average what would have prorated to an over 2100-yard season in the games that he played.
But using that as a baseline for what he can accomplish is merely presenting the best-case scenario, and not the most realistic one. It is not realistic to claim that somebody will accomplish a feat not tied to longevity that nobody else ever has simply by projecting past successes and expecting the upward trajectory to continue into previously untouched territory.
For one, it assumes that Brown will continue to improve, which is becoming increasingly hard to imagine. For another, it assumes that Roethlisberger will remain healthy, which has not been the case for most of his career. Perhaps the key to achieving 2000 receiving yards will be to improve his performance when Roethlisberger is not on the field.