I have seen several articles since Mike Wallace signed with the Miami Dolphins that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a hole to fill at wide receiver. The latest article was from Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke who said that now that Mike Wallace is gone, Antonio Brown has a chance to be a star. I have to say that it really didn’t sit well with me to suggest that Antonio Brown needed Mike Wallace move on. I can see that logic from the perspective that Brown would move from 2nd string to 1st string, but I think it is far more complicated. Undoubtedly, Mike Wallace is a unique talent and he has made some spectacular catches. However, so did Santonio Holmes and the Steelers found someone for Roethlisberger to throw after Holmes was moved on.
Brown is a year behind Wallace in number of years in the NFL. Wallace has also played more games. So, I guess I can see the point from the perspective that analysts would think that Brown will get more time on the field. However, Steelers fans and Steeler leadership has been paying attention all along. I contend that Brown already has been recognized as a “star.” I actually dislike using the word “star.” I prefer to think of Antonio Brown as an exceptionally talented wide receiver who will do what the Steelers ask of him. The Steelers recognize it and gave Brown a new contract in 2012. While Mike Wallace was holding out, refusing to come to training camp because the Steelers wouldn’t give him a new contract, the Steelers looked over at Antonio Brown and said “Here you go, just a little reward.” In late July 2012, the Steelers signed him to a 5-year, $42.5M extension. Not bad for a 2010 6th-round draft pick, huh?
Should we think there is a hole in the receiver team because Mike Wallace had a lot of speed and could make spectacular catches? No. He is a great talent and maybe a rare talent, but the Steelers still have 50% of that team. Someone had to throw the ball, right? Give Roethlisberger time to work with his receivers and the Steelers will still have a passing game. I also think it is a disservice to think Wallace was the only fast guy on the team. If anything, this is more Emmanuel Sanders year to prove he has exceptional talent.
Statistics can be twisted or skewed however you want, so I hesitate to put them out there, but I think it is worth a look at how Wallace and Brown compare. I think that Wallace may have had more scoring opportunities than Brown over the last couple of years, but their numbers for 2011 and 2012 are close.
Both Wallace and Brown played all 16 games in 2011, but Brown only started in 3. However, I don’t see how that is a big deal. It seems they were used pretty equally. According to NFL.com, Brown had 69 receptions for 1108 yards and 2 TDs while Wallace had 72 receptions for 1193 yards and 8 TDs. Brown also had 30 punt returns for 325 yards and 1 TD and 27 kick returns for 727 yards. Wallace had no punt returns or kick returns. Sounds to me as if Brown was on the field quite a bit even though Wallace started more at WR. Brown has zero fumbles and Wallace had one.
In 2012, Wallace played in 15 games, starting in 14. Brown played in 13 games, starting in 10. Wallace had 64 receptions for 836 yards with 8 TDs and 2 fumbles with 1 lost. Brown had 66 receptions for 787 yards with 5 TDs BUT had 4 fumbles with 2 lost. Brown still did punt returns but he did not have a great year for that: 27 returns for 183 yards with 2 fumbles. Even with Brown playing two fewer games, the stats are pretty close.
There is one criticism, at least for me, that I hope to see a turnaround for Brown. His fumble rate for 2012 is far too high and makes me wonder why Wallace took so much grief for his fumbles. Brown also had two kick return TDs called back. In one of those, he was called for taunting the opponent. That wasn’t the reason the TD was called back, someone else blocked illegally, but it was a surprising penalty for a Steeler and partially raised a red flag for me. Brown got a big contract last year and maybe some of it went to his head. You would think a guy getting paid millions of dollars would know how to keep his mouth shut, just do his little “river dance” and get off the field. I hope he was embarrassed and realizes he can’t do that in the NFL. However, that really isn’t what I am criticizing. I am concerned about ball control. Six fumbles over 13 games may not seem like a lot, but we all know that it can cause a momentum shift.
Yes, Brown can now step out from “behind” Wallace’s shadow. I am sure that people smarter than me think he needed Wallace to leave so he can shine. I don’t see it that way. I saw Brown and Wallace as two distinct and equally valuable wide receivers last year. In 2011, I thought that Brown was starting to gain experience but still didn’t think of him as a Wallace-replacement in waiting. I will always concede that I’m biased when it comes to the Steelers; that’s being a fan. However, I get a little miffed at the attention Mike Wallace received that led analysts to assess Brown was a lesser receiver. Wallace got the splash plays and unfortunately the Steelers needed them far more often than I think they should have. Brown is an exceptional receiver and should be evaluated on his own merit. He’s got some areas to improve on and I hope we see that this year. It’s going to be a long year if ball control continues to be an issue. If Tomlin hasn’t made his point about that by now, then Brown won’t be the wide receiver “star” for long.
Saying anything about Mike Wallace can cause a firestorm because many Steelers fans feel strongly (in both directions) about him. This post is meant to point out that I think Brown was and is being undersold because of Wallace’s ability to make the highlight reel. We don’t need players who have to make the highlight reel. That’s gravy. The Steelers need players who can hold on to the ball and score. I believe that Antonio Brown is one of those players, as long as he is level-headed and focused. I’m excited to see him play this year. Here we go Steelers! Here we go!