I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I say that Antonio Brown will have a better fantasy football season than Mike Wallace.
I find it laughable that my prediction is so “outlandish”. Why do we accept Julio Jones over Roddy White in plenty of fantasy rankings, but completely overlook the second receiver in Pittsburgh?
If there’s any second receiver in the league that can become the clear number one target on a team, it’s not Julio Jones. It’s Antonio Brown.
Let’s first take a look at Julio Jones and Roddy White. Last season, Julio Jones averaged 8 targets per game played. Roddy White’s was over 11. And moreover, Jones averaged 9 yards per game less than White over the course of the 2011 season.
I get it though. He was a rookie. And, in fact, he scored the same number of touchdowns as White in less games played. That’s why I’m not calling you an idiot for valuing Julio Jones higher than Roddy White this season. I’m going to call you an idiot for having Mike Wallace 20 spots higher than Antonio Brown in your rankings though.
All you need to do is look at the 2011 season. Mike Wallace started the year off with 800 yards over the first 8 games. Antonio Brown, on the other hand, had just 431. It was a huge difference, but when you look at the amount of targets these receivers got, Antonio Brown actually had more (63) than Mike Wallace (58) over the front half of the season.
Why such a yard discrepancy? Because Mike Wallace is a big play receiver. During the first eight games of the regular season last year, Wallace had a 40-plus yard catch in all but two of them. And moreover, he caught one for 81 and one for 95.
So what happens when you remove those big plays? Well, let’s just take a look at the second half of the 2011 season for the Steelers’ receivers.
Over the final eight games, Mike Wallace’s total yardage dropped from 800 to 393. He finished with zero 100-yard games from Week 8 onwards. Why? He caught a pass for 40 or more yards in just one of those games. Antonio Brown not only did this in three of these eight games, but he finished with 677 yards over the second half of the season. He also had 2 100-yard games. Oh, and he continued to see more targets than Wallace (61 vs. 56).
Although Wallace scored eight times last season to Brown’s two scores, we have to be aware that Wallace had just two more red zone targets than Brown (12 vs. 10), and converted three of those to touchdowns. Brown was only able to convert one.
It’s a small sample size, but it’s worth noting that Ben looks for Brown just as much in the red zone compared to Wallace, even with Brown having a lesser touchdown conversion rate. I’d say Brown can make up for that with another year under his belt.
For more, here’s how their fantasy numbers looked last season:
Wallace – 106
Brown – 46
Wallace – 56
Brown – 76
Wallace’s numbers were cut nearly in half over the second half of the season from a fantasy perspective. Antonio Brown, on the other hand, had a nice 30-point increase.
You want to blame it on Roethlisberger’s injury woes, don’t you? You want to say “Ben Roethlisberger couldn’t get the ball downfield as well during the second half of his 2011 season because he was hurt.”
Of the four NFL regular season months (September through December), Roethlisberger’s highest yards per attempt came in the month of December last year. That’s the same month that he played on a broken foot. And it’s the same month that Mike Wallace averaged just 50 yards per game.
Antonio Brown? He averaged over 80 yards per game.
Let’s not forget the contract dispute with Wallace, either. While it may end up doing nothing to his production this season, there’s always an added factor of risk when players’ battle with any front office prior to the start of a season. Sometimes it can be beneficial, as the player becomes more motivated, but sometimes it can have the adverse effect.
Mike Wallace clearly separates himself from Brown with his deep threat and scoring plays, and the fact that he’s been doing it longer. But when take a look at how last year shaped up, Antonio Brown became the clear number one target in an evolving Pittsburgh offense.
He’s also being drafted two and a half rounds after Wallace right now.
I believe Antonio Brown will put up better fantasy numbers than Mike Wallace this year. You can disagree with that and I won’t fault you. I will criticize you, however, if you have him significantly below Mike Wallace.
If we’re going to choose a wide receiver this year to overtake their teams’ number one receiving spot in terms of fantasy production, we should look at history. We should base the decision off of how things are trending on the football field.
Is Antonio Brown a better option at wide receiver than Julio Jones? No. Is he a better value pick than Julio Jones? Possibly. Does he have a better shot at taking over as the best receiving option for his team?