By Jeremy Hritz
No doubt, Antonio Brown is going to be a beast, even more so than he has proved already.
Brown was tremendously productive at Central Michigan, catching over 93 balls in three consecutive years and accumulating 22 touchdowns. He even attempted five passes and threw for one touchdown. Brown had a somewhat of a quiet season in his rookie year until the playoffs when he caught a 58 yard bomb on his head against the Baltimore Ravens and then converted on a 3rd and 6 against the New York Jets to cement the Pittsburgh Steelers a trip to the Super Bowl. This past season, Brown secured 69 balls for 1108 yards and two touchdowns, one which happened to be the game-breaker against the Cleveland Browns on a Thursday night. He has also proved that he can be effective in the return game as he had over 1000 yards on returns in 2011. His 1000 return yards coupled with his 1000 yards receiving put him in the NFL record books as the first player ever to accomplish such a feat.
Just how will Brown progress moving forward with Steelers? This is a question that many fans are now asking as the possibility of Mike Wallace moving on continues to build momentum.
During last preseason, Brown led all NFL receivers with nine receptions for 230 yards and three touchdowns. He also had four 20-plus yard and two 40-plus yard catches, including a spectacular 77 yard touchdown reception against the Atlanta Falcons. And while preseason is not a great indicator of a player’s success, it hyped the expectations for this young man, and he did not disappoint. However, nobody, and they would be lying if they said that they did, had the expectation that Brown would have 1100 yards receiving at season’s end or be voted the team’s MVP. In reality, Brown exceeded everybody’s expectations except his own.
Fast forward to the present moment and the uncertainty surrounding Wallace. It is a possibility that Brown could be Ben’s primary target in 2011. If this is the case, would he be able to match the production that Wallace achieved, or would he be rendered ineffective as a result of becoming the focus of defensive game plans in the absence of Wallace? There is no question that Wallace threatened every defense vertically, which opened up things for Brown. While Brown’s 4.47 40 yard dash time is no comparison to the 4.27 of Wallace, he still has the ability to blow up coverage and to fly by defenders as he has demonstrated during his short time in the league.
The other element of Brown worth consideration is his attitude. His slogan, “Chest up. Eyes up. Prayed up.” is indicative of his perseverant temperament and commitment to overcoming adversity, something he is familiar with from his upbringing in the challenging area of Liberty City, Miami (google Dan Gigler’s article from last year’s Post Gazette). It is this attitude and his admirable work ethic, in addition to his production, that made such an impression on his teammates that he was voted the team’s MVP in only his second year.
If the truth that the Steelers are staring at in August is Brown as the number one, it should not be cause for concern. This guy can get it done, and even though he set a new NFL record and was named team MVP, he isn’t even close to reaching his full potential. Frighteningly exciting.