Fantasy Football: Ranking the best destinations for Antonio Brown
If Antonio Brown is going to be on a new team in 2019, it better be one of these with a great quarterback-playcaller combination.
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Nobody's worried about Antonio Brown slowing down or dropping passes or forgetting how to run routes with a new team. Everybody's worried about who will throw him the ball and if they'll throw him the ball enough to keep him among the elite receivers in Fantasy.
It's a legitimate concern. There's no denying the chemistry and rhythm Brown and Ben Roethlisberger developed over the past nine years. Heck, only 39 of Brown's 837 regular-season catches came from someone other than Roethlisberger — and none were touchdowns.
To get a gauge on just how significant this relationship is, I reviewed all of Brown's touchdowns and all of his receptions over 15 yards from the past two seasons. The goal was to see how many of these plays could have been made from any quarterback (like plays on screen passes), and how many were made because Roethlisberger did something uncommon (like evading pressure and putting the ball in a perfect spot).
Bottom line? Roethlisberger definitely played more than a caretaker's role in Brown's success, but Brown did enough on his own to make himself a super Fantasy receiver. This shouldn't really surprise you.
Here's what Brown needs to flourish in 2019:
- A good, accurate and cool-under-pressure quarterback under the guidance of ...
- A clever, aggressive playcaller who will lean on Brown to the tune of ...
- 150 targets, or 9.3 per game, something he's had each of the past five seasons
Note: In the past five seasons there have been no fewer than nine and no more than 12 receivers to average 9.3 targets per game. Several averaged that number and still didn't finish in the top-12 due to injuries or poor performance.
There aren't a lot of teams that can offer all this to Brown. Plenty can deliver on two of the three, but we'd like the trifecta if we're going to take Brown with top-three expectations and a first-round Fantasy pick.
So with that in mind, here are the five best landing spots for Brown.
There aren't many quarterbacks who could quickly develop rapport with Antonio Brown the way Andrew Luck could. He proved he was all the way back in 2018 with a career-high in both pass attempts (639) and completion percentage (67.3), all while throwing to T.Y. Hilton and ... Eric Ebron, Nyheim Hines, Chester Rogers, Ryan Grant and Zach Pascal. Frank Reich has proven to be among the best play engineers in the league and wouldn't let Brown go to waste.
Luck has pushed a receiver to over 150 targets twice in his career and has only once targeted multiple receivers 120-plus times each (2012, Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery). But given how much Luck throws the ball (over 550 attempts in three of his past four seasons), it's not hard to think Brown won't get the ball over 120 times. Luck might even find himself leaning on Brown instead of Hilton. Luck has spread around at least 31 touchdowns in three of his past four seasons and was on-pace to make it 4 for 4 if not for an injury in 2015.
Indianapolis would devastate defenses with this receiving combination, paving the way for Brown to be worthy of a late first-round pick.
2. San Francisco
Already linked to the 49ers via his social media posts, Brown would immediately lock into the unquestioned No. 1 role in an offense pioneered by Kyle Shanahan. The 2018 campaign was a nightmare for the 49ers, but Shanahan managed to turn Marquise Goodwin into a near-1,000-yard receiver in 2017. He's pushed Julio Jones, Andrew Hawkins, Pierre Garcon, Jabar Gaffney and others to career-best numbers. In many cases, it meant gobs of targets (Jones had 203!). It doesn't take much to imagine how he'll lean on Brown.
Can Jimmy Garoppolo get him the ball? Through limited snaps over the past three seasons he has completed 65.5 percent of his passes at an 8.4 yards per throw clip. He improved on his deep passing in 2018 — Pro Football Focus credited Garoppolo with a 5-of-12 completion mark on deep throws for 168 yards and two touchdowns. That's good, and Garoppolo could have had more if his receivers held on to the ball a little better.
If we buy into Garoppolo continuing to master every throw, we can point to Shanahan's track record of leaning on big-play receivers and assume a very good year for Brown, especially with minimal competition for targets. He'd still be worth a late first-round pick.
3. Green Bay
Brown catching passes from Aaron Rodgers? That sounds pretty amazing. And since the Packers offense won't fundamentally change under new coach Matt LaFleur, the schematics shouldn't suggest anything negative.
The only concern is if there are enough targets to go around between Brown and Davante Adams. Not to slight Adams or any of the Packers' other young receivers, but the answer is obviously yes. A wideout has landed at least 150 targets from Rodgers three times in the past five seasons, and two receivers topped 120 targets in the same year in 2016 and 2014 — with outstanding results.
Still, when's the last time Fantasy owners saw two receivers from the same team get taken in the first round? This might be the only destination where Brown would be projected for under 150 targets and still get some top-12 love. In theory he'd get some consideration over Adams, and Rodgers might get some serious consideration ahead of Patrick Mahomes. Ultimately, Brown would be sensational in a Packers uniform.
The Eagles have a major need for a speedy receiver who can line up anywhere. They tried to plug Golden Tate into that role and failed. Alshon Jeffery gives them size but not necessarily speed. Brown would be an incredible option in a very creative offense. Doug Pederson is among the league's most aggressive playcallers, finishing in the top-seven in pass attempts in two of his three years with the Eagles. There's a real good chance Brown would hit 150 targets.
Carson Wentz has been a very good quarterback over his past two seasons, completing 64.7 percent of his passes at 7.6 yards per try, with a touchdown every 10 completions, which is pretty good. He's a maestro in the red zone and ranked highly in deep passing in 2017 and 2018 (1,520 yards and 13 touchdowns on 42-of-110 passing with seven drops).
Brown's arrival might hurt the prospects of Jeffery and Zach Ertz, but he'd still be considered in a very good spot for Fantasy purposes. He'd eke into the end on Round 1.
5. New Orleans
This one needs plenty of faith. The Saints don't mind tossing 120-plus targets to one receiver (Michael Thomas topped 140 in each of the past two years) but have consistently not given that many to two players in the same season. But that simply might be because they haven't had two exceptional receivers on the field at the same time. It could be the reason why they've ranked 19th or lower in pass attempts the past two seasons.
Leave it to Sean Payton to find ways to get Antonio Brown the ball. Will it be to the tune of 9.3 times per game? Unlikely, but it should be close. And like Green Bay, New Orleans would probably put Brown in a position to have supreme efficiency on 120 or so targets.
Drew Brees might not quite have as much mustard on his long tosses as he did a few years back, but he's the only quarterback in 2018 to finish in the top two in each of Pro Football Focus' signature metrics for deep passing, adjusted accuracy and passing under pressure. He'd help Brown flirt with first-round value.
What about Antonio Brown ...
- ... with the Raiders? I was close to putting the Raiders ahead of the Saints on the grounds that he might be looking at 170-plus targets. Also, Derek Carr was the only other passer to land in the top six of all of Pro Football Focus' signature metrics (deep balls, adjusted completion, passing under pressure). Jon Gruden found a way to coax a career year out of Jared Cook, so he'd do fine with Antonio Brown.
- ... with the Panthers? Want a way to take pressure off of Christian McCaffrey and make your offense more dangerous at the same time? Brown's ability to dominate in the short-area and strike deep downfield makes him a terrific addition given what the Panthers offense asks of their pass-catchers. He'd help Cam Newton build off his career-best 67.9 completion percentage, too. Newton's track record of limited numbers from his wide receivers would scare Fantasy owners a little too much.
- ... with the Bears? Many would argue the missing piece of the Bears team last year was at receiver. Matt Nagy did a great job spreading the ball around (no receiver had 100 targets but three different Bears had at least 90) and would consistently find ways to get Brown open. Would Mitchell Trubisky be consistent enough to hit the target every time? It's all fun to think about, but the Bears seemingly don't have the draft picks to spend to get Brown ... do they?
- ... with the Lions? This wouldn't be too bad — Matthew Stafford loves to sling it and Brown would be a big upgrade over Marvin Jones, who was inexplicably Stafford's muse for much of the season. Darrell Bevell isn't as run-focused as you may think and the defense would create some serious pass-needy game scripts.
- ... with the Seahawks? If the Seahawks made a fundamental change in their offensive philosophy and decided to throw a lot more, then it would definitely work. But Russell Wilson has averaged 492.2 pass attempts over his last five seasons — not enough volume to truly believe Brown would remain an elite Fantasy receiver.
- ... with the Jets? This probably wouldn't go as poorly as you think it would — Sam Darnold played really well late last season and Adam Gase was smart enough to lean on his best receiver for over 130 targets for most of his tenure with Miami. But this is the Jets, and no one would believe Brown could crush 1,500 yards here.
- ... with the Cardinals? In principle, this is a great idea. The Cardinals figure to be one of the league's most pass-aggressive offenses under new coach Kliff Kingsbury, but no one's sold on Josh Rosen being a perfect passer. He'd hurt Brown's stats.
- ... with the Bills? Another great thought in practice, but Josh Allen's accuracy issues would cost Brown some big numbers. This would be disappointing.
- ... with the Giants? It doesn't seem like he'd have a path to 150 targets on a team trying to cram touches into Saquon Barkley, plus they already have one discontented receiver in Odell Beckham.
- ... with the Cowboys? Dallas landed Amari Cooper in October and probably isn't focused on spending more capital at receiver. Dak Prescott's slight accuracy issues meshed with their run-first approach means only one receiver can be great for Fantasy at a time.
- ... with the Buccaneers/Chargers/Chiefs/Falcons/Rams/Texans/Vikings? A lot of fun possibilities, but too many mouths to feed in each city to keep Brown near the top of Fantasy draft boards.
- ... with the Broncos/Dolphins/Jaguars/Redskins/Titans? Ewwww!
- ... with the Patriots? It would be magical to see Brown stretch defenses and catch passes from Tom Brady, but the Steelers are intent on not dealing him to the team that's beaten them five times in the past six meetings and three straight playoff games.
- ... with the Browns? Honestly, Cleveland should try to outbid everyone for Brown and challenge the Steelers' mandate to keep him out of the AFC North. They'd be an unreal landing spot for him.
- ... with the Ravens or Bengals? The Bengals don't have the need and are the league's most passive franchise. The Ravens do, but there's a better chance of Bane bottoming out Heinz Field again than the Steelers dealing Brown to their bitter rivals.
HEY, HOW ABOUT THE STEELERS?!
I know there are a lot of hurt feelings here, but contract re-negotiations heal many wounds. The Steelers could offer Brown a bump in pay and in return Brown could promise to be less of a distraction (with such provisions added to the contract). We could be on the way to such a scenario if the Steelers simply can't get the compensation they think they deserve for Brown.
I would happily take Brown ahead of every receiver in Fantasy if he stuck with the team, and quarterback, he knows best.
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