Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown has served in a variety of roles over the course of his career. He was a bench warmer during his rookie season for the most part. He worked his way up to slot receiver over the course of his second season. But he has been a starter since then.
Starting typically includes a lot of snaps taken on the boundaries, but Brown’s ability to excel in the slot has seen the Steelers continue to try to use him in that area at times. It is understandably a trend that tends to ebb and flow from year to year based on the other options that they might have not just to play in the slot, but just to get on the field.
Comparing this past season to last year does show a bit of a decrease in terms of percentage of usage of Brown working out of the slot, although I would not start going around making sweeping declarations of why that might be, such as attributing the slight statistical drop due to the emergence of Eli Rogers.
It is worth noting in emphasizing that point that in the games during which Rogers was either injured or benched, there was not a significant effort to use Brown in the slot, certainly not in comparison to other games.
It depended on who happened to be available at the time, but all of the other wide receivers who started the season on the 53-man roster outside of Brown and Rogers took some snaps in the slot during the games in which Rogers was unavailable while Brown remained primarily on the outside.
But Brown did play roughly 1000 snaps during the regular season and took fewer than 100 snaps in the slot, with about 600 of those snaps on passing plays. Compare that to the 2015 season, during which he took roughly 125 snaps from the slot on about 1050 snaps, with about 675 snaps being passing plays.
Statistically, he was used in the slot less than 10 percent of the time in 2016 compared to about 12 percent the year before, or about 20 percent more by percentage. Of course it should be taken into consideration that the Steelers dealt with a lot of variables at the wide receiver position, including injuries and inexperience.
It will be interesting to see how Brown’s usage in the slot might evolve over the course of the next season with, presumably, greater experience and stability available to the Steelers. Having big bodies on the outside in Sammie Coates and Martavis Bryant—in the best-case scenario—would certainly on paper seem to be conducive to more slot snaps for Brown.