Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but somebody out there is speaking highly of the route-running ability of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
After detailing earlier last week that Brown made Pro Football Focus’ list of the league’s most unstoppable traits for his route-running ability, yesterday he made an NFL Network list presented by Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson of the top three route runners in the NFL.
It might not surprise you to learn that he finished first on that list, ahead of Raiders rookie Amari Cooper and Robinson’s teammate, Doug Baldwin.
Frankly, I personally would not rank Cooper or Baldwin in the top three players in this category. But, of course, we’re not talking about Cooper and Baldwin; we’re talking about Brown, who finished last season with the second-most receptions in NFL history with 136. You can imagine his route-running ability helped get him to that level.
On Brown, Robinson had the following to say: “193 targets, second in the NFL, 136 receptions, that’s number one in the NFL. Over 1800 yards, career-bests. This guy is one of the best route runners, in my opinion, that this league has ever seen”.
Not the most hard-hitting and detailed analysis that I’ve seen, if I’m being honest.
For a player who came into the league relatively raw as an underclassman, it goes without saying that Brown has made phenomenal strides in his game year upon year, repeatedly bettering himself and bringing his talents to another level that makes one wonder where his plateau might be.
While he possesses many excellent traits, including straight-line speed, quickness in space, a natural feel for windows, and in-air concentration, it has been his route tree, and his dedication to honing that coveted set of skills, that has been the single greatest key to his success—after his phenomenal work ethic, of course.
While Brown may be the only superstar wide receiver on the team, the Steelers have a widely recognized deep group of wide receivers on their roster. In order for any player to receiver such an astonishing number of targets in a season—nearly 200—he has to have a unique ability to present himself as an open target.
A demonstrated ability to make contested catches and a years-long rapport with an elite quarterback don’t hurt either, but there’s a reason that Brown finds himself on the precipice of rewriting NFL history at the wide receiver position, and that’s because he is arguably one of the great route runners in the history of the game.
It is all the more remarkable, of course, to consider the numbers that Brown put up last year in light of the injury situation that the Steelers had to deal with at the quarterback position, as Mike Vick in particular struggled mightily to get on the same page as Brown. That is all the more reason that many are beginning to believe that he can become the first player in NFL history to record a 2000-yard season through the year in 2016.