Opinions are like a lot of things, and some of those things are nicer to think about than others. The general idea behind drawing comparisons to other things for opinions, though, is the fact that they are ubiquitous. Ask somebody about something and chance are they’ll give you an opinion about it—even if they know barely anything on the subject.
That is what the vast majority of sports evaluation comes down to, is opinion, when trying to quantify, for example, which player is better, or more significant, or more valuable, than another. Attempts have been made in recent years to put numbers and equations to these questions, but you can never escape the human factor.
This is the idea that sprang to mind when I took a gander at a recent article over at ESPN that was handing out all-decade awards within the AFC North. Brooke Pryor, the site’s beat writer for the Pittsburgh Steelers, chose Antonio Brown over Ben Roethlisberger as the team’s player of the decade. She writes:
Despite how his tenure in Pittsburgh ended and what his current status is with the NFL, it’s undeniable that Brown was the best player in the division during his nine seasons with the Steelers. He had stretches as not only the AFC North’s most dominant player and best wide receiver, but also as the best of the best in the entire league. Drafted in 2010, Brown was quiet his rookie year before exploding in his second season with 1,108 yards. And that was just the beginning. From 2014 to 2017, Brown earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods as he put up eye-popping numbers, including a league-leading 1,698 receiving yards on 129 receptions in 2014. He had 1,834 yards and 135 receptions a year later. He compiled 11,207 yards and 74 touchdowns during his career in Pittsburgh.
I certainly think a very comfortable argument can be made that Roethlisberger was the Steelers’ player of the decade. For one thing, Brown didn’t do much as a rookie. For another, every single touchdown he ever caught in a Steelers uniform was thrown by Roethlisberger, and an awful lot of them were fantastic throws.
But over the past decade, Roethlisberger has also given the Steelers a reputation of being a wide receiver factory, helping to turn players like Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders (though not in Pittsburgh), and JuJu Smith-Schuster into Pro Bowlers. He threw 10 touchdown passes to Jerricho Cotchery in one season, and yes, I woke up this morning totally expecting to bring up Cotchery more than once.
That said, I think it’s fair to say that Brown was a better wide receiver than Roethlisberger was a quarterback. The numbers he put up are legitimately historic, and there’s a reason Roethlisberger leaned on him so much for so long. But the quarterback enabled his greatness.