Devil’s Advocate: Heightened Expectations For Antonio Brown

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: How will Antonio Brown perform in his first season as the highest-paid player at his position?

No matter how one might try to sell it, the Steelers had no idea what they were ultimately going to wind up with when they used a sixth-round draft pick on wide receiver Antonio Brown in the 2010 NFL Draft. If they had known, they wouldn’t have risked waiting so long. Of course, that’s not a knock against him, just a compliment to Brown’s perseverance since entering the league.

He has parlayed years and years of hard work into the biggest contract for a wide receiver in the league, a contract that his performance on the field has undoubtedly deserved. He has gone to the Pro Bowl for four straight seasons, being named first-team All-Pro three consecutive years, and second-team the year before that.

Brown is coming off an interesting season, however. He caught 12 touchdown passes, second-most in the league and second-most in his career, but his efficiency numbers were down—down from virtually unprecedented heights, of course. So what might that mean for this season?

Last year, he averaged about 85 yards per game after being over 100 the past two years, and at about 94 the year before that. He caught one pass fewer per game last year than he did in the previous two seasons. And his yards per reception was the lowest since 2012 when he first became a starter. This can’t simply be accounted for by Ben Roethlisberger’s injury.

But that doesn’t mean that he is on the decline—again, from an unprecedented height. Brown, who will turn 29 in July, is still at the top of his game from a physical standpoint and there’s no reason to believe that he should not better his statistics from last year. Another point in that favor is the fact that he should have better and more consistent options around him to draw couple coverage away from him more frequently.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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