There are plenty of arguments one can make in the effort to demonstrate that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown is the greatest wide receiver in football today. As a website that as its stated goal devotes its time to covering the team, it goes without saying that we have touched upon a good deal of those arguments from time to time just in discussing his weekly miracles.
One part of the equation that makes him great that probably doesn’t get as much coverage as it should, however, is just how extensively he spends his time in coverage going up against some of the best at his position, as opposing teams devote more time with their best coverage players lined up against him—or with bracket coverage—than just about any other player.
I recognize that this is of subjective value, but one piece of evidence that speaks to that argument is a recent graphic that was shared via Pro Football Focus that highlights the wide receivers from last season who spent the greatest amount of time when targeted facing the cornerbacks that the website graded the highest.
No wide receiver saw more targets against top 30 graded cornerbacks than Antonio Brown in 2017 pic.twitter.com/cjRn5ITRFb
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 31, 2018
In order to get it out of the way, the premise provided above rests on the assumption that PFF’s list of the top 30 cornerbacks based on their grading is representative of the ‘actual’ 30 greatest cornerbacks in the league, though I think we all know quite well that nobody will ever be able to agree on the exact names.
But according to this outlet, the percentage of time that Brown spent against the top cornerbacks last season, outside of the Miami Dolphins, Devante Parker, was significantly beyond that of everybody else when targeted. The first-team All-Pro saw 41.4 percent of his targets last season against the top 30 cornerbacks. Parker saw 40.8 of his targets come against such defensive backs.
Nobody else even reached 35 percent, with Kelvin Benjamin seeing 34.2 percent of his targets come against top competition, Marvin Jones 33 percent, and Mike Evans 32.6 percent. Considering that the fifth player on the list was nearly 10 percentage points lower, I think that speaks to how much more frequently Brown saw the ball against some of the best in the game.
An effort to provide more context will be given in the form of actually looking at the site’s top-graded cornerbacks and who Brown faced. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey were both in the top five, and I think we can safely say that Brown played as well against them as anybody else in the league, over two games.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ William Jackson III played him as well as any cornerback in the league, actually holding him without a catch, rated as their seventh cornerback. He also faced Darius Slay, Jason McCourty, Marcus Peters, Rashaan Melvin, Jimmy Smith, Darqueze Dennard, Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman, and Adoree’ Jackson.
Brown caught four of eight targets against Rhodes for 58 yards. Against Peters, he caught two of three passes, though for only 14 yards. He caught five of five for 49 against McCourty, two of four for 42 yards against Melvin, five of seven for 51 yards and a touchdown against Jackson…I think you get the idea. He’s good, and he’s good against the best. That’s what the greatest players do.