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Antonio Brown is the Steelers leader in touchdown celebrations

Antonio Brown is the Steelers leader in touchdown celebrations

Is Antonio Brown already the best wide receiver in Steelers history? That depends on how you define “best”, of course. But from at least one statistical standpoint, Brown already stands out as the most dominant.

One of my favorite simple methods to measure dominance is to measure receiving yards above the worst starter. For example, the 32nd-ranked player in receiving yards last year gained 922 receiving yards. Brown, meanwhile, had 1,834. As a result, he had 912 receiving yards above the “worst starter” last year.

In 2014, the 32nd-ranked receiving yards leader gained 916 yards; Brown had 1,698, so that’s +782. In 2013, Brown’s 1,499 yards were 603 yards above the baseline of 896, i.e., the amount of yards gained by the 32nd-ranked receiver.

In 2012, the baseline was 855 receiving yards; Brown, with 787 in 13 games, did not rank in the top 32 in receiving yards. Therefore, he gets a 0 for 2012. Finally, in 2011, Browns’ 1,108 receiving yards were 221 receiving yards above the threshold of 887 yards.

As a result, Brown’s six-year career looks like this: +912, +782, +603, 0, +221, 0. That sums to 2,518 yards above worst starter.

Last year, I looked at the leaders in Adjusted Catch Yards over worst starter using the same formula. I re-ran that methodology using receiving yards and pro-rating non-16 games to come up with a career list. The table below shows the top 200 players in football history using this methodology; Brown checks in at #31:

RkPlayerDraftFirst YrLast YrCar Value
1Jerry Rice1198520047789
2Don Hutsonun193519457694
3Randy Moss1199820124567
4Marvin Harrison1199620084369
5Torry Holt1199920094320
6Lance Alworth1196219723976
7Andre Johnson1200320153849
8Calvin Johnson1200720153838
9Terrell Owens3199620103803
10Michael Irvin1198819993690
11James Lofton1197819933647
12Steve Largent4197619893640
13Don Maynard9195819733573
14Isaac Bruce2199420093532
15Reggie Wayne1200120143520
16Jimmy Smith2199220053425
17Tim Brown1198820043358
18Brandon Marshall4200620153283
19Larry Fitzgerald1200420153236
20Steve Smith3200120153173
21Chad Johnson2200120113164
22Henry Ellard2198319983076
23Jim Benton2193819472940
24Art Powell11195919682786
25Rod Smithun199520062773
26Cris Carter4198720022770
27Roddy White1200520152636
28Sterling Sharpe1198819942559
29Herman Moore1199120022557
30Gary Clark2198519952551
31Antonio Brown6201020152518
32Mac Speedie15194619522514
33Del Shofner1195719672426
34Charley Henniganun196019662403
35Harold Jackson12196819832378
36Anquan Boldin2200320152363
37Wes Chandler1197819882354
38Wes Welkerun200420152317
39Raymond Berry20195519672262
40Charlie Joiner4196919862209
41Billy Howton2195219632207
42Demaryius Thomas1201020152198
43Lionel Taylorun195919682192
44John Gilliam2196719772182
45Andre Reed4198520002142
46Bobby Mitchell7195819682134
47Art Monk1198019952085
48Derrick Mason4199720112070
49Bob Hayes7196519752069
50Joe Horn5199620072047
51Julio Jones1201120152041
52Elroy Hirsch1194619572027
53Mark Clayton8198319932006
54Drew Hill12197919931985
55Cliff Branch4197219851941
56Donald Driver7199920121920
57Andre Rison1198920001915
58Charley Taylor1196419771881
59Gary Garrison6196619771856
60Hines Ward3199820111847
61Otis Taylor15196519751816
62Harold Carmichael7197119841795
63Irving Fryar1198420001786
64Stanley Morgan1197719901778
65Tommy McDonald3195719681767
66John Stallworth4197419871759
67Anthony Miller1198819971751
68Drew Pearsonun197319831751
69Keenan McCardell12199220071733
70Fred Biletnikoff3196519781718
71Vincent Jackson2200520151698
72Eric Moulds1199620071697
73Cris Collinsworth2198119881697
74Gene Washington1196919791696
75A.J. Green1201120151695
76Tom Fears11194819561664
77Kellen Winslow1197919871659
78Tony Gonzalez1199720131658
79Harlon Hill15195419621639
80Roy Green4197919921630
81Pete Pihos5194719551627
82Billy Wilson22195119601624
83Mike Quick1198219901603
84Paul Warfield1196419771595
85Joey Galloway1199520101595
86Marques Colston7200620151577
87Dante Lavelli12194619561572
88Buddy Dial2195919661550
89Mark Duper2198219921546
90Warren Wells12196419701513
91Lenny Moore1195619671501
92Dwight Clark10197919871491
93Mal Kutner4194619501487
94Rob Moore1199019991471
95Santana Moss1200120141458
96Steve Watsonun197919871454
97George Sauerun196519701437
98Muhsin Muhammad2199620091429
99Pete Retzlaff22195619661425
100Roy Jefferson2196519761416
101Carlos Carson5198019891404
102Keyshawn Johnson1199620061400
103Jordy Nelson2200820141397
104Amani Toomer2199620081395
105Homer Jones20196419701392
106Jake Reed3199120021370
107Tony Hill3197719861368
108Plaxico Burress1200020121360
109Bill Gromanun196019651352
110DeSean Jackson2200820151338
111Alfred Jenkinsun197519831333
112Todd Christensen2197919881318
113Dez Bryant1201020151309
114Wesley Walker2197719891299
115Eric Martin7198519941297
116Hugh Taylorun194719541296
117Ken Burrough1197019811289
118Antonio Freeman3199520031271
119John Jefferson1197819851271
120Greg Jennings2200620151252
121Ernest Givins2198619951211
122Anthony Carter12198519951202
123Mel Gray6197119821182
124Tony Martin5199020011181
125Carl Pickens2199220001154
126Laveranues Coles3200020091149
127Derrick Alexander1199420021144
128Sonny Randle19195919681140
129David Boston1199920051138
130Danny Abramowicz17196719741122
131Terry Glenn1199620071113
132Gaynell Tinsley2193719401108
133Ahmad Rashad1197219821101
134Al Toon1198519921095
135Isaac Curtis1197319841095
136Jason Witten3200320151074
137Jimmy Orr25195819701061
138Sammy White2197619851057
139Cloyce Box20194919541051
140Terance Mathis6199020021014
141Darrell Jackson3200020081006
142Charlie Brown819821987990
143Victor Cruzun20102014988
144Yancey Thigpen419912000980
145Lance Rentzel219651974975
146Brian Blades219881998970
147Jackie Smith1019631978958
148Dave Parks119641973947
149Mark Carrier319871998945
150Bob Mannun19481954943
151Dwayne Bowe120072015918
152Ozzie Newsome119781990918
153Odell Beckham120142015917
154Reggie Ruckerun19701981904
155Rob Gronkowski220102015902
156Ray McLean2119401947899
157DeAndre Hopkins120132015893
158J.T. Smithun19781990876
159Antonio Gatesun20032015875
160Jimmy Graham320102015869
161Johnnie Morton119942005863
162T.J. Houshmandzadeh720012011856
163Webster Slaughter219861998849
164Shannon Sharpe719902003848
165Rich Caster219701982839
166Brett Perriman219881997834
167T.Y. Hilton320122015824
168Ed McCaffrey319912003806
169Roger Carr119741983793
170Billy Hillenbrand119461948791
171Red Phillips119581967788
172Robert Brooks319922000782
173Tim Smith319801986782
174Pat Tilley419761986781
175Carroll Dale819601973778
176Mike Wallace320092015777
177Frank Clarke519571967775
178Haywood Jeffires119871996774
179Ben Hawkins319661974774
180Javon Walker120022009768
181Eddie Brown119851991766
182Brandon Lloyd420032014763
183Miles Austinun20062015762
184Eric Decker320102015752
185Josh Gordon220122014750
186Flipper Anderson219881997750
187Terry Barr319571965744
188Frank Lewis119711983743
189Alshon Jeffery220122015742
190Fred Barnett319901997741
191Johnny Morris1219581967739
192Bob Boydun19501957739
193Alyn Beals819461951732
194Ken Kavanaugh319401950727
195Bill Smithun19341939727
196Louis Lipps119841992725
197Jeremy Maclin120092015714
198Wilbur Moore919391946713
199Ricky Sanders119861995703
200Emmanuel Sanders320102015701

So, is Brown already the best wide receiver in Steelers history? That depends on how you define “best”, of course. John Stallworth is Hall of Famer, but is down at #66. Lynn Swann is down at #209 by this formula, but he had the best peak1 and is also in the Hall of Fame. Hines Ward is the Steelers leader in career receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, but is down at #60 in this formula. Buddy Dial is #88, and Roy Jefferson at #100, but Brown is already at #31. Brown has the top two single seasons in Steelers history by this method, and three of the top five, with Dial’s ’63 and Stallworth’s ’84 coming in just barely ahead of Brown’s 13.

This method is far from perfect: among its other flaws, it ignores receptions and receiving touchdowns, does not adjust for receivers that play on run-heavy teams, and uses a baseline that Brad Oremland would surely say is too high. Even with the era adjustment of using a moving baseline, players from the ’70s are still harmed.2 And it has no early-AFL adjustment.  But as a quick-and-dirty method, I think this is  a useful way to measure dominance, and in that regard, it’s a clear improvement over raw receiving yards.

  1. Assuming you define peak as one play. []
  2. For example, in 1974, the 26th-ranked player in receiving yards had 544, so that’s a much lower baseline. But the #3-ranked receiver had just 785 receiving yards, so that goes down as only +275. []
  • sacramento gold miners

    Antonio Brown is on his way towards becoming the premier receiver in Steelers history, but we don’t know how well he will age. In addition, I believe Big Ben is 34, and has absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment. If #7 sharply declines a couple years after 2016, that could play a major role in Brown’s future numbers. Also, while he has had a couple quality postseason games, Brown hasn’t yet matched the production of Ward, Stallworth, and Swann in this area. It’s always tough to measure players from different eras, but Stallworth and Swann had their numbers suppressed by their times. Finally, Brown does need to stop somersaulting into the end zone and jumping into the goal posts, it’s an injury waiting to happen.

  • Josh Sanford

    Brown’s 2015 was the 153rd best “career” in the NFL by this metric–that tends to show how dominant he is right now. If he has a below-average season (by his standards), he can easily move into the Top 20.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Funny how history plays out. The Antonio Brown draft choice was eventually made by the Steelers by way of the Santonio Holmes trade. It was Holmes who appeared to be the next great Steelers receiver, we all remember his outstanding Super Bowl 43 game-winning catch. But off field and injury issues cut short a promising career before age 30. Holmes could also do damage as a punt returner, and had everything set up in Pittsburgh for a long, perhaps special career.