Kozora: Antonio Brown Is The Greatest Receiver In Steelers’ History

I’ll be honest with you, Steelers’ Nation. I’m not sure if this even qualifies as a controversial statement anymore. Certainly a debatable one, if for anything, because we live in a world that debates over the shape of the Earth. But this isn’t a statement that was necessarily cemented after last night’s victory. Heck, you could’ve made the point before this season even began.

But a ten catch, 144 yard, three touchdown performance is as good a time as any to bring up the point. Admittedly, I wasn’t alive to see John Stallworth and Lynn Swann on a weekly basis. Maybe I’m not the best champion to rank the all-time greats. But Antonio Brown’s greatness is plain for anyone to see, regardless of if you lived through the Steelers’ dynasty.

Brown is the greatest receiver to ever put on a Steelers’ uniform.

No disrespect to the other greats. And they were great. Hines Ward, his smile, his attitude, his blocking. Stallworth’s speed and the numbers he put up in a run-first era. Swann’s grace and ability to come through with a clutch play when it was needed the most.

But Brown? He’s on another level. He’s all of those things (ok…minus the blocking). He’s the best receiver in the league right now. I don’t know what else anyone who remains unconvinced needs. The best route runner. The best work ethic and attention to his craft. And the best when the play breaks down, traits he’s put on display the last two weeks. He could retire today and be a Hall of Famer. Top at his position for years, Brown’s already worthy of a gold jacket.

All this in a guy who doesn’t look the part. A 5’10, 195 pound receiver who ran a 4.57 coming out (though make no mistake, he’s much faster now). He wasn’t blessed with being a 6’3, 220 pound receiver who can make tough catches on just size alone. To put it simply, this isn’t supposed to happen with a guy like him.

Brown has to earn everything he gets. Brown’s ability to get open is rare. His route running, ability to get on DBs’ toes and make them worry about getting beat over the top, only for him to break his route off and catch the ball underneath. Or make a tough catch downfield, just as he did Thursday, a one-on-one grab for a 41 yard score.

Even when he’s well-defended, the body control and hands he displays catch after catch lets him make the play. A helmet catch for anyone else would be otherworldly. For those who watch Brown day-to-day, it’s no surprise.

“Not shocking at all. That’s AB and that’s what he does,” Ramon Foster told Missi Matthews after the game.

He’s going to virtually all the Steelers’ receiving records. Receptions, yards, touchdowns, they’re all going to be his sooner or later. Ditto across the league. Brown is 30 receptions away from his fifth 100 catch season, an NFL record. Steadily moving up the all-time receiving charts, by the end of the year he’ll be in the top 50 in yards and top 40 in receptions.

Sure, he’s been a diva. A bit of a headache. What receiver isn’t? Terrell Owens did pushups in his driveway. Chad Johnson was Ocho Cinco. Push comes to shove, Brown is a professional whose ultimate goal is chasing that Super Bowl.

“Our goal is winning,” he told reporters after the game, deflecting questions about individual performance or how many points the offense racked up. “We always want to play our best but whatever it takes to get the job done. Our business is winning.”

It’s a long list of greatness at receiver. I get it. And even with a long career ahead of him, Brown could legitimately play well into his 30s, I’m calling it. Antonio Brown: the greatest receiver in Steelers’ history.

 

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • Brantley Stockton

    Well, duh.

  • Biophys

    Thanks for jinxing him, Alex.

  • Ed Smith

    Alex, I have lived long enough to see both era’s and you are CORRECT my friend!! Not even close. Brown is in another category. Other than Mel Blount, the defenders today are bigger and faster. Swan, Stallworth and Ward would have success today, just not on Brown’s level.

  • Lambert58

    Thank God Wallace didn’t take the big contract.

  • NinjaMountie

    I think he’s built to have a long career like a Jerry Rice as well.

  • Talyn Scarbrough

    Serious question, are there any receivers who lacked the physical gifts and performed like Brown? I can’t speak on the greats like Jerry Rice (too young). When you think of dominant receivers you tend to think of the Randy Moss, Megatron prototype. Or maybe that’s just me.

  • Jones

    Not only the best Steelers receiver ever, but IMO, the best receiver in NFL history aside from Jerry Rice.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Steve Smith.

  • Carl Mendelius

    Please, until AB performs like this in a SB I would hold judgement, because all stats and records are worthless vs championships. Swann and Stallworth made history not stats.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Been saying it for a while now. He is my favorite player and probably be my favorite player ever after he hangs his cleats up. He’s a friggin 6rd pick! That toe tap on the sideline last night was routine, but the catch on the friggin helmet one hand? C’MON! Then everyone talking about David Tyree! Lol! AB caught that ish one handed! Uno! #greatest #️⃣8️⃣4️⃣

  • CP72

    Yes…..drop the Mic.

  • Ed Smith

    Yeah, AB could be playing for ravens right now!😱

  • WreckIess

    Eh. There’s a huge difference between personal accomplishments and team wins. If you’re grading someone based on their rings rather than their actual play, you’re doing it wrong.

  • philipag

    In terms of productivity, it’s a no brainer. Comparing eras is very tricky, and IMHO you would have had to see Swann and Stallworth on a regular basis to make a legitimate comparison. In terms of sheer talent , I think they were both on AB’s level.

  • Sean McConnaughy

    I thought this was going to be that he is the best receiver in the history of the NFL. You could definitely make a case for it.

  • CP72

    Swann and Stallworth getting a lot of love, but Hines should also be in the conversation.

  • NinjaMountie

    Nah, we are talking about grading out positions. That would be like saying the worst player on the 70s teams is better than our greatest player now because they won the Super Bowl.
    Stepping outside the team, I don’t think anyone would argue that Dan Marino isn’t one of the best QBs to play the game yet he never won the SB. Some may argue he’s better than Terry Bradshaw.
    Shoot, I’ll straight up say that Barry Sanders is better than any RB we’ve ever had and he never won a SB.

  • TMP_22903

    All of the points that were made in the article = Yes!

    Plus his durability is truly incredible. The consistency, conditioning, and ability to protect himself / stay healthy / heal should be recognized as a special attribute, too. (Look at Julio Jones or Dez Bryant, for example…or look at the players who had 2-3 year dominant peaks but then disappeared, like Priest Holmes.)

    And he makes it all look so routine! Even some of his most fantastic skill plays look almost effortless out there. Wow!

    And he DOES IT ALL. He plays so much bigger than his size. He has won so many eye-popping contested balls (one of the best examples: against Malcom Butler last year). He combines laser-precise route running with an artistic nuance to snatch almost everything in his general vicinity.

    Athleticism aside, his actual “wide receiver” skill set is … I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone else play the position at his level of true excellence.

    I’m “only” in my mid-thirties, but I’ve been watching the NFL closely since 1991 — and I really think AB dominates on a level that I’ve almost never seen, from any offensive skill position. I would confidently put him in the company of Jerry Rice, Marshall Faulk, and Barry Sanders in terms all-time great skill position players, especially from the modern era.

    Antonio Brown is quite literally unstoppable! And let’s give Roethlisberger some credit: I think the game tape demonstrates that 7 > 84 is one of the absolute all-time great QB-WR combos. It’s been a joy to watch so far, and I’m hoping this special connection continues until business is boomin; Lombardi-style!

  • Jones

    You suck at your job until your employer is a Fortune 500 company.

  • Axe Skot

    No argument here.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Someone should send Mike Wallace a thank you card sometime. 😬

  • Ryan Alderman

    Yep, he really is.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Jerry Rice wasn’t blazing fast or huge either, just had that maniacal work ethic and want to to be the best that all the great ones possess. Brown definitely puts in the time.

  • Ryan Alderman

    One tough dude.

  • Ryan Alderman

    I think it’s a fair argument.

  • Daniel Santo

    BB also deserves a lot of credit as he is the QB that dishes the ball, if AB was playing with someone like DeShone Kizer he wouldn’t have the numbers he has, but you cant dent the pure talent he has.

  • Matt Rippin

    If Brown is fortunate to play into his mid-30’s with an elite QB (hopefully with Pittsburgh, of course), just as Rice was, he will seriously contend for G.O.A.T.

  • Ichabod

    Then again the defenders back then could take your head off without penalty.
    Would AB have lasted? Not saying he wouldn’t, but it was a different game

  • Ichabod

    Good call Alex
    Although one might consider Limas

  • PaeperCup

    And with his pace, will that make him the greatest WR ever?

    I don’t know if we can afford him 8 years from now.

  • PaeperCup

    Barry Sanders comment seals the deal.

  • falconsaftey43

    Why wouldn’t they be able to afford him? He’s currently the highest paid WR.

    If you take his per game averages from 2013-2017 as his “pace.” He’ll break Rice’s reception record in 7 more seasons (2024). and Rice’s yardage record in 8 more seasons (2025). AB would then be 38. Rice played till he was 42. That’ll be tough for sure. There is a reason Rice is the unquestioned best WR ever.

  • Code Warrior

    AB is the most talented Steelers receiver I’ve ever seen. The sheer quantity of jaw dropping plays is phenomenal. The dude’s highlight reel is a full length motion picture blockbuster. He is approaching Jerry Rice status and I wouldn’t be surprised if reaches and/or surpasses that before its time to hang em up. The only thing AB is missing is a big play in the biggest of games and I believe when he gets his chance he will be enshrined with Hines, Swann, and Stallworth in that regard. Obviously he’s part of the Steelers Mt. Rushmore of Receivers already but the other 3 all had the opportunity to shine under the brightest light and shine they did. AB needs to be given that stage and when he gets it, he’ll deliver.

  • Alex Kozora

    They’re neck and neck.

  • Alex Kozora

    That’s why Ben’s going to Canton, too.

  • Code Warrior

    I think you can only judge a player on the games he’s had the opportunity to play in. If there were injuries or suspensions forcing a player to miss those opportunities – yes, go ahead and judge that too. But it’s a team game and the Steelers as a whole organization need to provide AB that Super Bowl stage. Until then you can only judge a man on what’s he’s made of his opportunities.

  • Code Warrior

    All that said, what Hines, Swann, and Stallworth did with their Super Bowl opportunities certainly counts in their favor… it just should not detract from any valuation of AB’s worth.

  • rystorm06

    Perfect route running, body control and quickness, he has both in spades. There’s other things that can make you great other than height and straight line speed. I think quickness is overlooked sometimes, it’s harder to cover a quick WR than one that’s just straight line fast.

  • falconsaftey43

    So I take it you only watch the Super Bowl, and no other games? After all, the rest is worthless.

  • treeher

    Everything you say emphasizes that we’ve got to get ourselves another punt returner. Steeler Nation will be Heart Attack Nation if he gets hurt returning punts. He hasn’t been doing such a great job anyway at that.

  • treeher

    Yes, Louis Lipps would be in the conversation too. From ’84 to ’92 he caught passes from Mark Malone, David Woodley, Bubby Brister, Todd Blackledge, and Neil O’Donnell, and he STILL set some records.

  • Steelerbob

    I can see the argument for several of these guys. Brown, of course, in this era has that advantage of all the passing that goes on. For me, Ive never seen anyone as good as Lynn Swann. I think if he was playing in this era he would be even greater. Brown has made some fantastic catches to be sure, but Swann was able to haul in anything it seemed. On a lot of Swann’s receptions, he had to make amazing catches to get the ball.

  • I don’t love him as much as Hines but there is no discussion really that he’s a superior player to anyone else. Every game he pulls off at least one play that would be on the career top 10 highlight reel of almost every #1 or #2 receiver.

    That being said, I would love to have seen Swann in this era where he couldn’t be hit on the routes and where he could train more intensively in the off season (Maybe ballet AND tap :] ).

  • PittShawnC

    I just did the same thing with his 2011-last night’s game career averages (excluding all R season stats), we’re pretty close.
    Receptions record mid-seasonish 2025 (age 37)
    Rec yard record late season 2027 (age 39)
    TD record at midseason 2033 (age 45)

    Receptions are attainable. I think no way on the others. Those time frames and ages above are if he keeps his current pace, never misses a game and has a QB that can feed him.

  • If you ever get a chance, check out Rice’s football life episode. He grew up literally catching bricks and chasing horses. Dyed in the wool skillset…

  • PittShawnC

    He will be the greatest Steeler WR ever
    Rice’s production is just too staggering for AB (or more than likely anyone) to take the GOAT.
    But, but…maybe GOAT WR under 6’0? Right now that’s Steve Smith or Largent…hmmm….

  • Ryan Alderman

    You know, I’ve seen it, but it’s been awhile. I remember the episode starting off with the brick part. His dad made him tough as nails and gave him those magical hands. I was a kid in the ’80s, born in ’77, so when I first started watching football and actually remember it the 49ers were on top of their game. Man, was that team fun to watch with Montana/Rice/Lott/ (blanking on the RB that was great, too). They made it look easy, didn’t they?

  • Don

    Steve Largent

  • Jeff Papiernik

    Remember when people were talking about trading him after the fb live incident? Oh what fools we have in our fanbase.

  • They were unreal, Steve Young, JJ Stokes, Roger Craig and a young TO in the mix there too.

  • Jeff Dudash

    I’m 41, so the 70s Steelers were a little before my time. But growing up in Pittsburgh, I saw all of the highlights time and again. A few years ago, I bought a DVD set with the actual game broadcasts of all of the Steelers Super Bowl wins and I watched them.

    Not to take anything away from the players on those teams, but I grew up watching the NFL Films Super Bowl shows and I pretty much thought all Lynn Swann did was make acrobatic catches, etc. Seeing the reality (including mistakes) rather than just the highlight packages makes a huge difference. Comments like “making history” allow older players to set standards that current players can never live up to … even when, like in this case, the current player is better.

  • srdan

    I knwo what you mean, but I think AB was going to get the same offer all along. Colbert doesn’t let stars walk.

  • Lambert58

    The Steelers braintrust may have been the only ones who knew he’d be a star.

  • pkeats86

    Marvin Harrison had the same size and seemed to catch everything. He ran a 4.38 though. He was expected to be a gamebreaker. So… kind of the same situation size-wise but, we was a first round speedster.

  • Taylor Williams

    Wallace would actually be better if he worked hard, studied tape and had a knack for the ball like AB.

  • Taylor Williams

    Fair argument. Megatron, to me, is a little bit better than AB. But he’s retired so Brown will surpass him.

  • Carl Mendelius

    Did Sanders played great to win at least playoffs games with Detroit? Nah. Did Marino played great in the SB? Nah. So what is the point to win mist games if you lose the great one?

  • Carl Mendelius

    What is the point to play great in most games if you cannot play great in the big one that defines who is the best?

  • Carl Mendelius

    Agreed, but if they make it to the SB, AB will find no place to hide if he wants to compare himself to Swann and Stallworth.

  • Carl Mendelius

    My point is that the SB is just the opportunity to make history, if a player never gets this opportunity its not 100% his fault. But at the end of the day if I have to choose Swann or AB to play a SB, I will choose Swann. If I have to choose Marino to Bradshaw to play a SB I will choose Bradshaw. Marino played terrible in the SB.

  • Carl Mendelius

    You are right, if the player never gets the opportunity to play the SB it is not his fault 100%, but I will choose Bradshaw to play the SB and not Marino, because Bradshaw beat the great Staubach Cowboys twice and Marino looked bad versus the 49ers in the SB.

  • Code Warrior

    What AB does with that chance – if he gets it – will weigh heavily into the analysis IMO

  • Code Warrior

    And to your point, just to underscore the importance of a SB performance, imagine if O’Donnell had a monster game in 95 and beat the Cowboys. How differently we would remember him!

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Dan Marino was a better passer than Terry Bradshaw.

  • StolenUpVotes

    I absolutely agree. The best to wear the Black and Gold. Such a find by the FO

  • StolenUpVotes

    AB right now is better than Smith ever was imo

  • StolenUpVotes

    I agree. His skill set is one that is set for longevity. He has become MORE athletic since he has been in the league. He isn’t dependent on raw athletic ability like some of the other guys who haven’t been able to continue playing at a high level into their 30s or once injuries started to sap raw talent.

  • StolenUpVotes

    They also saw him practice every day unlike the fans or rest of the league

  • melblount

    TMP_22903 stated:

    “I’m “only” in my mid-thirties, but I’ve been watching the NFL closely since 1991 — and I really think AB dominates on a level that I’ve almost never seen, from any offensive skill position. I would confidently put him in the company of Jerry Rice, Marshall Faulk, and Barry Sanders in terms all-time great skill position players, especially from the modern era.”
    ——————————————————————————————–
    I blame comments like this on bad parenting.

    Please, start some SERIOUS research with these couple of stats:

    Career Regular Season (Rec/Yards/TDs)
    Jerry Rice (1,549, 22,895, 197)
    Antonio Brown (702, 9,403, 56)

    Career Post-Season (Rec/Yards/TDs)
    Jerry Rice (151, 2,245, 22)
    Antonio Brown (44, 705, 2)

    If you haven’t come to your senses yet, then consider these career highlights and awards:

    Jerry Rice
    3× Super Bowl champion (XXIII, XXIV, XXIX)
    Super Bowl MVP (XXIII)
    13× Pro Bowl (1986–1996, 1998, 2002)
    10× First-team All-Pro (1986–1990, 1992–1996)
    2× Second-team All-Pro (1991, 2002)
    Bert Bell Award (1987)
    2× NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1987, 1993)
    6× NFL receiving yards leader (1986, 1989, 1990, 1993–1995)
    2× NFL receptions leader (1990, 1996)
    6× NFL receiving touchdowns leader (1986, 1987, 1989–1991, 1993)
    NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
    NFL 1980s All-Decade Team
    NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
    San Francisco 49ers No. 80 retired
    2× First-team I-AA All-American (1983, 1984)
    NFL records
    1,549 career receptions
    22,895 career receiving yards
    197 career receiving touchdowns
    23,546 career all-purpose yards

    Antonio Brown
    5× Pro Bowl (2011, 2013–2016)
    3× First-team All-Pro (2014–2016)
    Second-team All-Pro (2013)
    NFL receiving yards leader (2014)
    2× NFL receptions leader (2014, 2015)
    2× First-team All-American (2008, 2009)
    2× First-team All-MAC (2008, 2009)
    Second-team All-MAC (2007)
    MAC Freshman of the Year (2007)

  • rystorm06

    Brister to Lipps was one of my favorite things to watch lol (I became a fan in 1990). Lipps would have been a superstar if he played with a good QB.

  • Zarbor

    Not even close. Best WR in Steelers history and he’s still going.

    And to think there were folks who wanted to sign one trick Wallace over Brown….

  • NinjaMountie

    Because it’s a team game and that’s what wins Super Bowls. Is it the goal of every player? I certainly hope so. Still, you don’t always get to play on a team that wins.
    Not being able to understand the difference between personal greatness and team greatness is just stubbornness.

  • Lambert58

    Yeah there’s plenty of talent in the league, but AB is one of those rare gems that will work at the level of their talent and beyond. Wallace was never that guy.

  • NinjaMountie

    Well, using your line of thinking Doug Williams is one of the best QBs to ever play the game. He had a great stat line in his SB victory. He must be a better QB than Marino for sure.

  • NinjaMountie

    Yup. It’s going to be tough to take on Rice as GOAT. The fact that we’re even talking about it and figuring out timelines says a lot about AB though.

  • J Jones

    Ive been saying and i honestly believe that AB has been the best player in the league for 3 straight yrs if we include this one. Hes a modern day Jerry Rice. But i watched his dad play arena back in the day so while AB still boggles the mind, his pops had that same style of game. Funny to see it all come full circle

  • Alan Tman

    I don’t think that case can be made. Remember Stallworth and Swann played in an Era when rushing the football was how the game was played. Corners were allowed to pick you up, and slam you to the ground!!! The rules have changed so much in 35 years to help receivers catch passes. I think it’s very close as to the order of those three. You could put them in any order, and no one could really argue, but I’ll take Stallworth, Brown then Swan, and if Louis Lipps would have ever had a QB this might be different!!!

  • Carl Mendelius

    Marino had a serious flaw: he didn’t perform great under great pressure because he didn’t have any mobility, he demanded good protection always and that is almost impossible versus great defenses in the SB. Williams was much less talented as a passer than Marino but handled the pressure much better.

  • Z Vranic RMT

    Brown hands down. I saw Swann and Stallworth( liked John more and wore his number when I played ). My top 5 are in order AB, Stallworth, Hines, Swanny and Louis Lipps! Wish he had played in another era. Anyone else have a favorite top 5 WRs

  • Carl Mendelius

    I have never said winning is necessary for greatness, I said playing great in the great games versus good opponents.

  • Carl Mendelius

    Totally.

  • Carl Mendelius

    Swann made crucial acrobatic catches that changed the game under enormous pressure versus great opponents in the biggest stage possible. I believe AB can do it as well but we have to wait.

  • pittsburghjoe

    With out a doubt! He is everything Yancy Thigpen aspired to be!!

  • NinjaMountie

    The fact that you are willing to even consider Williams in the same breath as Marino denies you any credibility at all and shows you’re only purpose is to be argumentative.
    I could say water is wet and you’d claim it was dry.

  • Carl Mendelius

    Actually I have watched most Steelers games since I was 10 in the 70s. Regular season games are not worthless and I think they are only important since they constitute the road to the SB. The stats and numbers along the way have value but if the player do not plays well in the SB, the greatest stage versus the best opponents, the player overall value diminishes. On the contrary, if the player performs great in the SB who cares about his regular season numbers?

  • Carl Mendelius

    Agreed, but you cannot say AB is better WR than Swann because AB is missing an enormous credential: having made crucial acrobatic catches in the biggest stage versus great opponents.

  • Carl Mendelius

    I never said Williams is better or equal to Marino, but Williams proved that he can perform great under pressure in the biggest game of all, Marino didn’t because he had no mobility whatsoever and could not throw well in motion. Bradshaw was not very mobile either but he could handle the pressure much better than Marino and took several vicious hits during his time but still he managed to be effective.

  • Sam Clonch

    Just did a quick search, and it appears that unless your name is Danny Amendola, you have about the same odds of getting hurt returning a punt as you do being the punter.

  • Sam Clonch

    No one seems to be having trouble with John Ross so far, lol

  • Ichabod

    Same five but different order for me…AB>Hines>Swann>Stallworth>Lipps>all others.
    Of course we can only go with what they did. What might have been based on eras, QBs and what not, can be debatable I guess. How did they fair against receivers in their day I think would be a fair criteria.

  • americanpatriot

    Damn, I hate this type of blanket, unprovable, ‘best of all-time’ declaration for ANY sports figure. Is Brown great? Answer is so obvious it doesn’t merit an answer. Is Brown the best Steeler WR in the modern era (whatever that means?) Even though I believe that answer should await a complete body of work, he probably is. But of all time?

    Alex himself admits to not being alive for Swann and Stallworth. Hell, his mother and father might not even have been alive when the likes of Elbie Nickel and Buddy Dial were catching Steeler passes. To me, that kind of comment is driven by the stats; metrics; and the fantasy craze. Use that data for player comparisons within a single year? OK. Beyond that the picture gets skewed. Hell, even the new rules, fines, expulsions over helmet-to-helmet contact can and does affect WR stats.

    The NFL changes every year, some good, some bad. Imagine the changes to the game and by extension to all stats from decade to decade, and century to century.

    You are 100% correct that Brown is a great receiver. You want to state that he, ‘may’ be the greatest…..;’ ‘that he is the greatest IYO,’ sure, OK. But THE greatest of all time……..