Antonio Brown is the greatest wide receiver in the league. There isn’t a lot of compelling debate about that at this point. Sure, there will be the Julio Jones supporters, and even Odell Beckham, Jr. will get his votes, but for the most part, the informed consensus is that there is no better wide receiver than the one dominating for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Heading into his ninth season since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Brown is now 30 years old, and coming off a season in which he led the league in receiving yards for the second time with 1533. And that game, need I remind you, in just 13 and a half games.
While there is a popular—and accurate—perception that the age of 30 is the fall-off point for the running back position, however, it is also largely true that even many of the great wide receiver begin to slow down, some significantly, as they entire their fourth decade.
Brown doesn’t expect any such lag from himself. On hitting 30, he told ESPN, “I don’t pay attention to my age”. Of course that is easier to say now. It is probably what most athletes say until their body begins to inform them that they ought to.
“I’m feeling great, I’m healthy and I’m in great shape. I feel as long as I have that, I can continue to be productive”, he continued. “Life is all about challenges and working to be the best. You never want to limp away from the game”.
It does help that Brown came into the league as a young man. He was only 20 years old at the time that he was drafted, and played his rookie season at the age of 21, though admittedly he did not play a great deal that first year, catching just 16 passes with no touchdowns.
He made his first Pro Bowl in his second season, albeit largely for his work on special teams, where he recorded over 1000 combined yards as a returner. He also recorded 1108 receiving yards, becoming the first player in NFL history to do both in the same year.
Over the course of the past five seasons, he has averaged 116 receptions for 1570 yards and 10.5 touchdowns. His numbers from last season were actually below those marks, but, again, they came during a truncated campaign. He likely would have matched or bettered all three had he played in every game.
While his straight-line speed is underrated, Brown’s success has never been about pure athletic prowess, so it should stand to reason that he would be able to age more gracefully than most elite wide receivers.
The nuance in his route-running is second to none, and he never turns down an opportunity to better himself on the field. The maintenance of his work ethic has been as crucial as the maintenance as his body in his great run in the league.