Human nature is such that when you see greatness in front of you you have a tendency to think of it in greater historical terms than may be warranted. It’s a little something called recency bias. And not having been old enough to have witnessed prior greatness for yourself.
The biggest historical debate in sports right now is whether or not LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all time, and for those who feel the need to weigh in, they tend to share the belief that theirs is the obvious right opinion. Of course Michael Jordan was the greatest; James can’t compare, even though he’s still sinking playoff buzzer-beaters.
The contemporary version of this debate in the NFL today I believe resides in Pittsburgh, though the argument still has a lot more maturing to do. With James, he has reached a point in his career in which the conversation has switched from will he be the best to is he the best. For the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown, the vast majority still hold that he is in the prior stage in comparison to San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, whom many regard as the greatest football player of all time.
Still, that the debate has been had is undeniable. And assuming that Brown continues to play a number of years yet at a high level, there’s an excellent possibility that we will never have a clear answer. At best, we will always have the ‘you can’t compare eras’ caveat.
But The Checkdown recently checked in with Brown following his eighth season in the NFL to see how he compares with Rice through the same or similar points in his career, using an Instagram story to explore the title question, “will AB become the GOAT?”.
It starts off well for Brown. Through their first 115 games, the Steelers All-Pro has 9910 receiving yards. Rice was very close but behind with 9532 yards. Brown has an astonishing 733 receptions in that same span. Rice was distantly behind with 556.
But Rice utterly puts Brown, and virtually all others, to shame with the most important individual statistical category. While Brown has a quite respectable 59 receiving touchdowns through this point in his career, Rice had a truly remarkable 97 at the same point.
Oh, and just to put that into some perspective, 97 touchdowns would rank Rice 11th all-time (once you factor himself out). He merely added another one hundred receiving touchdowns to his total before calling it a career. Only two other players finished their career within 50 of him. Brown currently ranks 59th all-time, and 10th among active players, though one or more of those listed active players has or is likely to retire this offseason.
Back to the numbers, Brown has six 1000-yard receiving seasons in his eight seasons. Rice had seven in his first eight. Of course, Brown was an afterthought in his rookie season. Rice holds the same edge in Pro Bowls. Brown has four first-team All-Pro nods, while Rice had six.
Oh, and he had a couple of Super Bowls and a Super Bowl MVP to go along with it. You know, the single most important part of football. Brown has played in a Super Bowl, during his rookie season. It’s the biggest thing missing from his professional life, by far. He’ll gladly take a ring or two over being the GOAT, I’m sure.