The top 10 players in the league, as determined courtesy of NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players of 2016”, won’t be revealed until Wednesday—such that it’s something that matters all that much—but in the meantime, contributor Adam Schein took a stab at his own top 10 list, the most interesting part of which is how the wide receivers fall.
It’s not much of a surprise to see that Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown cracks the top 10, nor it is a surprise that he is one of three wide receivers listed in the top 10 players in the league, according to Schein, but I suspect more than a few will raise an eyebrow over the fact that he wasn’t the highest-ranked wide receiver.
Brown, needless to say, put up some eye-popping numbers last year, assembling a stat line of 136 catches—the second-most all-time—1834 receiving yards—the fourth-most all-time—and 10 touchdowns. Amazing as that was, none of those numbers led the league outright, and that is why Julio Jones of the Falcons placed seventh on Schein’s list, one place higher than Brown.
The former first-round draft pick had an incredible season of his own, tying Brown with 136 receptions but bettering him with 1871 receiving yards, the second-most ever, behind only Calvin Johnson’s historic 2012 season in which he very nearly threatened to crack the 2000-yard mark. He did he two fewer touchdowns.
Schein notes, however, that Jones’ 93 receptions for first downs were the most in the league, and by a fair amount, as Brown placed second with 84 such receptions. Only three players had more than 80 receptions that resulted in first downs, and only four players had even reached 70 such receptions. Odell Beckham, Jr., the third wide receiver on the list, who placed 10th overall, was fifth in the league in first-down receptions, with 67.
Jones had a remarkable season, to be sure, but the reality is that it’s nothing new for him, and the truth is that the only thing that has held him back has been his health, playing injured fairly often and being limited to just five games in 2013. He has missed nearly a full season in his five years in the league.
Still, he has produced 414 receptions for 6201 yards and 34 touchdowns thus far. On a per season average, that rates to 83 receptions for 1242 yards and seven touchdowns, but on a per game average, that draw to 6.4 receptions for 95.4 yards and .52 touchdowns.
Brown and Jones have, of course, taken very different routes to get to the same destination, which is first-team All-Pro recognition. A day-one starter, Jones has always pretty much had the lion’s share of attention. Brown was nearly invisible in his first season as a sixth-round pick on a deep roster, and did not enter the starting lineup full-time until his third season.
In just the last three seasons, however, he has been out of this world, compiling 375 receptions for 5031 yards and 31 touchdowns, which, as Schein points out, works out to 125 receptions for 1677 yards and 10 touchdowns per year. It is for this consistency alone that I would still give the nod to Brown, but the discussion is a meritorious one.