Antonio Brown, Derek Carr will have to get outside comfort zone to maximize the Raiders' offense in 2019
Browns needs to work in the slot more often, and Derek Carr needs to take more shots downfield
When it comes to Antonio Brown, the NFL world has spent the past several months talking about everything other than football. First, there was all the drams with Brown's divorce from the Steelers and the (still-ongoing) shade war between Brown and both Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Then, there the that resulted in his getting frostbitten feet. More recently, there has been a filed against the NFL in an attempt to overturn a ruling that disallows Brown's preferred helmet model because it's too old.
Somewhat overshadowed in all this hoopla is the fact that Brown is -- to use a technical term -- really effing good at professional football. With that in mind, we're continuing our dive into how new faces in new places will affect their new teams by taking a look at how Brown's presence and skill set will affect the Oakland Raiders' offense.
The first and most obvious way Brown's presence will change things is that he's by far the best receiver this version of the Raiders have had. He is coming off his sixth consecutive season with at least 101 catches, 1,284 yards, and eight touchdowns. Nobody else in NFL history has more than four such seasons, and only eight other players have two or more. And those are Brown's *worst* figures in each category over the past six years. He averaged a 114-1,524-11 line during that time.
He is nearly unmatched as a route-runner, a perennial member of the Always Open Club. He almost never drops the ball, as his career drop rate is just 3 percent. He can make plays both in short-yardage and deep down the field. And he's one of the best run after catch guys in the league, averaging 5.0 yards after catch per reception for his career.
Brown is an extremely versatile player in terms of ability, but throughout his tenure as the No. 1 receiver in Pittsburgh, he actually tended to line up in the same spot more often than not. Between 2013 and 2018, Brown lined up as the left outside receiver on 50.2 percent of his snaps, right outside receiver on 37.5 percent of his snaps, and in the slot on 12.3 percent of his snaps. His career-high slot rate is just 16.2 percent, set last season.
|Year||LWR||RWR||Slot||% LWR||% RWR||% Slot|
If Raiders coach Jon Gruden is smart, he'll jack up that slot rate this season. Not only have passes to slot receivers become more and more efficient over the past few seasons, but Carr has shown throughout his career that he is more comfortable throwing short and intermediate routes than he is deep downfield. (His average depth of throw last season was just 7.1 yards, tied with Matthew Stafford for 36th among 38 qualified quarterbacks.) Slot routes tend to be quicker-breaking and allow Carr to deliver to his target and let them make hay after the catch, as is his preference.
And while there are plenty of quality slot corners in the league and even some No. 1 guys who will bump down into the slot when shadowing, many teams have a dedicated nickel corner who is not quite as good as the guys who play outside. Allowing Brown to work closer to the formation and against weaker corners more often has merit regardless, but it also makes sense because the team's other wide receiver signing this offseason -- Tyrell Williams -- is a pure deep threat who almost exclusively works on the perimeter. Brown working underneath routes and occupying a safety who might otherwise drop back and help on a Williams deep route could prove beneficial as well.
That said, while Carr has often been reluctant to throw deep, the opportunities for him to do so should be there now more than ever; and he should (needs to) be more willing to take those types of shots now that he has Brown on his side. Only 10.9% of Carr's career passes have traveled over 20 yards in the air, per Pro Football Focus, but 15.5% of Brown's career targets have been 20-plus yard throws, and he's been pretty significantly more effective on those throws than anyone to whom Carr has thrown deep downfield. Brown is actually the only player in the league who has caught double-digit deep balls in each of the past six seasons. (Julio Jones has hit that mark five years in a row, while Brandin Cooks has done it in four consecutive seasons.)
|Year||Rec||Tgt||Rec %||Yds||YPA||TD||TD %|
If Brown and Carr can unlock these differing parts of each other's skill sets, that should help the offense take a step forward from the place it was last season. And the attention Brown's mere presence draws no matter where he is on the field should be beneficial for Williams, tight end Darren Waller, and other members of the team's offense. This might not all happen right away, but if they figure out the right ways to augment each other's skill sets, it could work over the long term.
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