Can Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown rebound in 2017?
Wait, what? How can a player who caught 106 passes in 2016, which was second-best in the NFL, rebound? In short, in the hidden yardage area and specifically, in his yards after the catch average.
According to stats on ESPN.com, Brown averaged 3.88 yards after catches in 2016 and that was the lowest he’s registered during his eight years in the league. Heading into 2016, Brown had averaged 4.74 yards after the catch and if he had hit that number in 2016, he would hypothetically had 91 more yards receiving. Now, 91 yards might not seem like a whole lot, but that’s nearly a full football field. In Brown’s case, specifically, those 91 yards is another full game of receiving for him as he’s averaging nearly 83 yards receiving per game so far during his career.
Not to cherry-pick, but according to our charting from last season, 77 of Brown’s total yards after the catch he registered in 2016 came on three plays and that means he averaged just 3.24 yards after the catch on his other 103 receptions if you use and believe the ESPN.com data, which is 17 yards less than what we charted the Steelers wide receiver as having.
So, what led to Brown’s nearly one full yard decrease in YAC average last season? Is he getting slower? Is he less elusive? No, I don’t think so and I doubt any of you believe that, either. While it’s just a theory, the fact that Brown received so much attention from defenses last season very well could have played a role in his YAC decreasing.
In reality, the fact that Brown was still able to catch 106 passes in 2016 despite opposing defenses paying him more attention than they perhaps ever have during his entire career should be enough evidence that he’s still very much on top of his game. With so much attention being payed to Brown in 2016 it probably shouldn’t be a big surprise that opposing defenses were likely able to get him down on the ground quicker after he did make a catch.
Last season, the Steelers were forced to field a very inexperienced group of wide receivers along with Brown thanks to Martavis Bryant being suspended and Markus Wheaton only playing 97 total offensive snaps all season due to a shoulder injury. Throw in the fact that then second-year wide receiver Sammie Coates was pretty much useless after the fifth game of the season due to a hand injury and the Steelers were then forced to turn to the likes of Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Demarcus Ayers.
Heck, while Heyward-Bey certainly doesn’t strike a lot of fear in opposing defenses, he’s still fast and can stretch the field. With that said, even he missed six games in 2016 and those came after Coates had suffered his injury.
Now, as we sit here in late May, there’s reasons to believe that the Steelers will be able to surround Brown with more productive counterparts in 2017 and especially if Bryant is able to keep his nose and lungs clean. Additionally, Rogers now has a full season underneath his belt and hopefully Coates’ hand, groin and psyche have all fully healed. Oh, and then there is this year’s second-round draft pick JuJu Smith-Schuster, who figures to slowly but surely work his way into considerable playing time as his rookie season progresses.
Assuming whatever group of wide receivers the Steelers settle on come the start of the regular season all remain healthy, opposing defenses might not be able to pay Brown as much attention as they did in 2016. If, however, defenses insist on still attempting to take away Brown with extra attention, it will be up to Bryant, Rogers and the others to make them pay the price for their actions.
In short, I fully expect Brown’s YAC numbers to rebound in 2017 and perhaps even by a near full yard.
Antonio Brown Career Regular Season Receiving Stats
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