Fantasy Impact: Antonio Brown Traded to the Raiders (Fantasy Football)
We all knew it was coming, though it doesn’t make this article any less stunning. The Pittsburgh Steelers have traded star wide receiver Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for a third- and fifth-round pick. As a part of the trade, the Raiders are giving him a new contract worth $50.1 million over three years with $30.1 million guaranteed.
THE STEELERS DAYS
During his time with the Steelers, Brown amassed 11,207 yards and 74 touchdowns in his nine seasons. Had he played one more year there, he likely would’ve broken Hines Ward‘s all-time record for most receiving yards by a Steeler, which sits at 12,083 yards. The 1,834 yards Brown recorded in 2015 did set the franchise record for yards in a single season. In fact, he owns the top four single-season receiving records for them. It’s fair to say he may have been the best Steeler of all-time.
There will be many who still believe Brown will perform at an elite level with his new team, though I’d urge you to approach with caution. He’s finished as a top-seven wide receiver for six straight years, but he’s also averaged 11.14 targets per game in that stretch, which translates to 178.3 targets per 16-game season. How many non-Antonio Brown wide receivers have hit that number in one single season over the last 10 years? Nine of them. Do you know how many hit that number more than once? One of them. Fun fact: A.J. Green hasn’t ever accumulated more than 178 targets in a season. Then you have to factor in who those targets were coming from. Removing all points from rushing, Ben Roethlisberger has averaged 0.47 fantasy points per pass attempt over the last six years. By comparison, Derek Carr has averaged just 0.39 points per attempt in his five-year career. It’s not apples to apples, but the downgrade to Carr must be taken into consideration.
THE DEREK CARR EFFECT
In his Carr’s first season under Jon Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson, he threw the ball 553 times for 4,049 yards, which was a career-high, though he converted them into just 19 touchdowns, which was a career-low. The receiving options for Carr weren’t what you’d call ideal, especially after they traded away Amari Cooper before their game in Week 8. It was 33-year-old Jordy Nelson who saw the most targets among wide receivers last year (88), something that’s likely to shift in a big way, though there are some trends that don’t bode very well for Brown and the Raiders wide receivers.
Since Carr entered the league in 2014, he’s targeted wide receivers on 55.8 percent of his attempts, a number that would’ve ranked 19th last year. While his receiver corps may not have been good from Week 8-17 this year, he did have some solid targets in years past. By comparison, Roethlisberger has targeted his wide receivers on 62.6 percent of his pass attempts in that same five-year span. You know how everyone simply assumes the Colts tight end is going to succeed under Andrew Luck? Well, it’s because he’s favored tight ends over his career. There are a lot of quarterbacks who have go-to positions that you can see in trends, almost regardless of scheme. It may be too soon to say that Carr doesn’t target wide receivers on a consistent basis, but so far, it hasn’t been promising.
Now, it’s important we discuss whether Jon Gruden’s offense should allow for a top-tier wide receiver. Yes, it does. Oddly enough, 2018 was the first team he’d coached where his offense didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver. On each of his previous 11 teams, there was at least one wide receiver who posted a minimum of 1,000 yards, with two of them on his Raiders team in 2001.
In the end, Brown is surely going to end up with more than 1,000 yards and he’s going to get targeted, but he’s not going to be very consistent. He’s not 6-foot-3 and a jump-ball receiver. Oddly enough, he’s more like Amari Cooper than some want to admit. Is he better than Cooper? Yes, absolutely. Is he going to make Carr look better than Cooper did? Not necessarily. Both Cooper and Brown are route-runners, guys who create separation with their footwork, agility, and stop-and-go speed rather than long-speed or freakish athleticism. To those who watch Cooper on a consistent basis, you know how much separation he gets on both intermediate routes, as well as deep routes. That separation didn’t get him very much with Carr, as he was targeted five times or less in 18 different games over a span of 3.3 years. That was the reason for Cooper’s inconsistency in Oakland, not because he’s an inconsistent player. Going back to the start of 2013 (span of six years), Brown has seen five targets or less just three times while with the Steelers.
Many will go into 2019 not knowing how to properly evaluate Brown on his new team, but if there’s one thing we know, it’s that his consistency is taking a major hit. He’s certainly going to take a dip in the efficiency department and it’s almost guaranteed he’s going to fall short of his 178.3-target average he’s been accustomed to over the last six years. Some will laugh and say you can’t use Amari Cooper as a gauge for what Brown can/will do with Carr under center, but you kind of have to considering the type of players they are. But let’s be clear, the Raiders didn’t trade for a disgruntled wide receiver to not use him in a big way. In fact, it’s very possible that Carr learned from his time with Cooper and will start to lean on his top wide receiver a bit more than he has in the past.
It’s going to take time for Carr and Brown to develop the chemistry that Roethlisberger and he had, as those two may have been the best improvising duo when the play broke down. You also have to account for Brown coming in and learning a new offense at 31 years old. There’s still plenty of moves to be made this offseason by a Raiders team with plenty of holes, but as things sit right now, they lack playmakers outside of Brown. This suggests he should still be locked in for plenty of targets, though it’s not likely to be the same as his Steelers days. I’ll leave you with this: Brown saw 13 or more targets in 7-of-15 games in 2018 alone. There’s been just 11 times in Carr’s five-year career where he’s targeted any wide receiver at least 13 times. If you want to draft Brown in 2019, you have to accept that there’s likely going to be some shades of the old Amari Cooper. He won’t be worth a top-five wide receiver selection in 2019 drafts, but he should be able to finish as a borderline top-10 receiver with the targets he’ll receive. My 2019 projection: 152 targets, 92 receptions, 1,147 yards, 8 touchdowns