Last night, the National Football Hall of Fame granted entry to seven new members into the most prestigious group of individuals relating to the sport. Among them were a couple of individuals with ties to the Pittsburgh Steelers, such as Kevin Greene, a prolific pass rusher whose three years in Pittsburgh during his 15-year career he cherishes the most, and Tony Dungy, who learned under Chuck Noll as both a player and coach.
Also in that class was one of the greatest wide receiver of the modern era of the game, Marvin Harrison, who with the Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning made history of their own. Harrison continues to hold the record for the most receptions in a single season with 143, a record that Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has been working on chasing down in recent years.
Yesterday, John Pollard of Catapult Sports posted an interesting chart pertaining to some recent Hall of Fame inductees at the wide receiver position—and Terrell Owens, who will likely get in with the 2017 class—a chart that I believe helps enlighten the current path that Brown is charting for himself as he enters his seventh NFL season.
Originally drafted in the sixth round and sparsely used as a rookie in 2010, Brown forced his way into playing time in his second year, entered the starting lineup in year three, and has begun to rewrite the team’s record books, with his sights set on the league’s, over the course of the past three seasons.
Pollard’s chart aims to showcase some of the NFL greats’ numbers during their ‘prime’ years, a five- or six-year period that showcased their greatest level of productivity.
Of those featured, only Jerry Rice and Cris Carter averaged more than 100 receptions per season, and both also had a drop rate of under five percent. Both averaged greater than 150 targets—Carter was highest on the list with 171 targets—but Rice held the greatest completion percentage at 66.5 percent.
Now, Brown is only in the middle of his prime now, so be sure, having just turned 28 less than a month ago, but the criteria is a period of five years, so we should look at both the past three, as well as the past five years for him.
Using numbers from ESPN, Brown has seen 770 targets over the past five years, averaging 154 per season. He has caught 510 passes, which works out to 102 receptions per season. And that translates to a completion percentage of 66.2.
Drops are an awfully nebulous statistic subject to judgement, but using Sporting Charts, Brown is credited with having dropped a total of just 25 passes over the span of the past five season, or just five per season. Only Andre Reed averaged fewer drops per season, but Brown’s drop percentage of 3.2 percent was the second-lowest on the list, and it is a statistic that has improved over time.
While it is undeniable that Brown plays in an era of the game that makes his job easier than it was for his predecessors—even the more modern players featured in the chart—there is also no denying the sheer excellence of the numbers that he has been producing when you put it toe to toe with Hall of Famers.
And he’s far from done in stating his case for his own eventual enshrinement alongside Rice, Carter, Harrison—and maybe even Hines Ward.