Surprise, surprise, we’ve found another thing that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is good at. I bet he doesn’t even end sentences with prepositions, even if it’s an antiquated writing standard.
Once a borderline afterthought as a sixth-round rookie in 2010 on a depth chart that already included Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, and the rookie drafted ahead of him in the third round, Emmanuel Sanders, not to mention the return of Antwaan Randle El, Brown has transformed himself into the premiere player at the position, finishing as a first-team All-Pro for four consecutive seasons.
And he accomplished this, yes, with his own natural ability, but also largely by his dedication toward perfecting every element of his craft. I doubt that there is anybody in the league who works more at ensuring that he keeps his body inbounds when he goes to make grabs near the sidelines. Brown has a better highlight reel than any other receiver in the game right now short of perhaps Odell Beckham, Jr., and even that is debatable.
I think one of his most undervalued strengths, however, would have to be his ability to make contested catches. You wouldn’t think of him as a strong contested catch player given his size, assuming instead that the strength of his game was in working into the zones of defensive coverages, but the truth is there isn’t a situation on the field in which he can’t consistently come down with the football.
Pro Football Focus recently took a stab at quantifying player success in contested catches and found that Brown was, shockingly, among the best in the league. Among all wide receivers who had at least 20 targets in situations defined as a contested target, the Steelers wide receiver had the eighth-highest catch rate in the league.
“If we went back and tracked this for prior seasons, I’d expect Brown to be a stalwart in the top 10”, Michael Renner wrote. “Brown’s 22 contested catches were the most in the NFL behind only Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans (who had a ridiculous 54 contested catch opportunities and 23 catches). That’s almost a quarter of his catches on the season coming when contested. His 424 yards on those receptions were also second-most in the league”.
For clarification, Evans did not make the top 10 among contested catches, so while he had one more contested-catch reception than Brown, the latter was more efficient, catching 51.2 percent of the targets he received that came under contested circumstances.
While the site doesn’t detail specifically what they consider to be contested targets (I would like to think it’s pretty explanatory), the introduction to the article notes that they found 2818 such targets from last season, and that the catch rate on such targets was just 45 percent.