Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers gave Antonio Brown his money, is he still going to continue playing like the best wide receiver in the league?
Chance are, yes. It isn’t like he’s shown any signs of slowing down throughout his career, and it isn’t the firs time he’s received a pay raise by Pittsburgh. However, this season, Brown has a chance to break a very old NFL record, and become the first ever player to record five straight 100-catch seasons.
Can AB break one of the NFL’s oldest records? All signs say yes. Even with the addition of JuJu Smith-Schuster and the return of Martavis Bryant, it’s going to be hard for Ben Roethlisberger not to find his favorite target. And with less coverage due to the increase in surrounding talent, Brown is going to be even more open than he’s been the last four years.
In a roundtable discussion through ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter, Katherine Terrell, explained why Brown isn’t going to see any change in 2017.
"The Steelers took wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, in the second round of the draft, but don’t let that fool you. Antonio Brown will get his catches in 2017. There’s a reason the Steelers recently signed him to a four-year, $68 million deal. Who else does Pittsburgh have? The Ladarius Green experiment lasted only a year. Slot receiver Eli Rogers had 48 receptions last year and could take a step forward, but he’ll probably still be behind running back Le’Veon Bell in the passing rotation. Bryant could eat into Brown’s targets, but not by much. Brown’s 106 catches last year far surpassed Bell and more than doubled Rogers’ total. No other receiver has even come close to Brown’s volume of catches for the past four seasons. And nobody else has proven they’re ready to lessen his load. Expect Brown to be targeted as much as he has ever been in 2017."
Terrell couldn’t have had a better explanation. Brown may have better talent around him, but for the first time in years he could be single covered. Unless defenses choose to completely ignore one of Pittsburgh’s other four receiving options, Brown is looking to be one of the most wide open receivers in the NFL this season.
Which is going to give him a lot more looks from Big Ben. His 695 targets over the last four seasons proves that Roethlisberger loves to find his top receivers, even when he’s being double teamed. Now, with less coverage on him, the Brown-Roethlisberger connection is going to be even more fierce.
ESPN’s Baltimore Ravens reporter, Jamison Hensley, added this to Fowler’s roundtable discussion.
"Yes, as long as he can stay healthy. The numbers back it up. Since the 100-catch streak began in 2013, Brown has averaged seven catches per game against AFC North teams. Of the 10 out-of-division opponents for the 2017 season, four of them (Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and Green Bay) ranked in the top 10 last year in most receptions allowed to wide receivers. Plus, Brown gets open and Ben Roethlisberger is looking for him. Over the past four seasons, Brown has been targeted on 28.5 percent of his routes. The only other NFL receiver to be targeted more often during that stretch is Julio Jones (29.6 percent). Some will suggest Martavis Bryant’s return will lower Brown’s total. But Pittsburgh doesn’t have a top pass-catching tight end, which should help the number of passes thrown to Brown. Expect the status quo with Brown in 2017."
It’s 100% true. No matter who you put on Brown, he always finds a way to make plays. He’s one of the most unstoppable forces in the NFL, and with less stress from opposing defenses, his numbers will be higher than they’ve ever been.
To answer the question; yes. Antonio Brown will easily crack 100 receptions this season, and become the first NFL player to have five consecutive 100-receptions seasons. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if he broke Marvin Harrison’s single season reception record (143) while he’s at it.