By Matthew Marczi
Through six weeks of the 2013 NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the best wide receiver in the game, and it really is not all that close, according to the advanced metrics of Pro Football Focus.
The website gives Antonio Brown an overall grade of 14.0, which is 2.5 grade points higher than the second-highest-graded receiver, Brandon Marshall of the Chicago Bears. Making the figure even more impressive is the fact that the Steelers have already had their Bye week, so Brown’s figures are a game short of the majority of the rest of the league.
The degree to which Brown outpaces the rest of the league purely as a receiver, however, is even greater when one considers that a large part of Marshall’s grade comes from his blocking, with a grade of 3.4.
The second-highest-graded receiver in terms of his work in the passing game is Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, with a grade of 8.7. Antonio Brown’s passing grade comes in at 12.8.
Pro Football Focus obviously really likes what Brown has been able to do thus far this season, but what exactly are they seeing in him that places his performance so much higher than others?
Among starting wide receivers, Antonio Brown has the highest catch percentage in the league, catching 41 of his 50 targets, or a clean 82 percent. In fact, nobody with 25 or more targets has a higher catch percentage.
Additionally, he has among the lowest drop percentages among qualified players in the league, being docked for just one drop in his 50 targets. Torrey Smith has yet to drop a pass in his 52 targets, but he has only caught 28 of them.
Then there are of course simply the raw numbers. Despite being a game behind, Brown’s 498 yards ranks seventh in the league—sixth among wide receivers—while his 99.6 yards per game ranks fourth.
Only Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans has more receptions than Brown, whose 41 is tied for second with Julian Edelman and Julio Jones behind Johnson’s 44. His 27 first downs is also tied for second in the league behind Johnson, with New Orleans Saints glorified tight end Jimmy Graham.
Remember when Brown supposedly had it out with offensive coordinator Todd Haley over the way he was being used through the first two games? Since then, Brown has 30 receptions on 35 targets, 370 yards, and two touchdowns. Additionally, 126 of his 182 yards after the catch have come in the last three games. Add to that 75 yards on two pass interference penalties drawn in the past two games. It is no wonder so much of the offense has been going through Brown this year.