Nov 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) on the field for warm-ups before playing the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 30-9. (Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Antonio Brown works hard. We get that.
It has been well documented that the Steelers' All-Pro receiver — once a lowly sixth-round pick out of little-known Central Michigan — has become the most dominant and consistent wide receiver in the NFL.
Scattered throughout the social media world are videos and pictures depicting Brown's multiple-per-day workouts. The stories from his teammates of the late-night “grind” sessions are prevalent throughout the locker room.
“What the secret to his success is that what he does on Snap 1 is what he does on Snap 101,” DeAngelo Williams said. “That's what makes him great.”
But there is much more than that to Brown, and it has him on the doorstep of what nobody has done in the league before.
Brown heads into Monday's season opener against the Washington Redskins on the verge of shattering records held by the league's elite and Hall of Fame receivers Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison.
With 95 receptions and 1,262 yards, Brown will become the most prolific receiver in the history of the game over a four-year span. Knowing that the last four years have resulted in an average 125 receptions and 1,677 yards for Brown, it should be an attainable mark.
“He's gotten better every year,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “I haven't seen any signs of him not getting better. His goals are to be the best and maybe the best ever. It takes staying healthy and a little bit of luck here and there, but he wants to be the best and he prepares like that.”
But again, there's much more to Antonio Brown than his work ethic.
“Blessings,” cornerback William Gay said. “Blessings from above is what it is. Once in a while in this league you have a guy who comes around like that. Seriously, who's better?”
You name it, and Brown does it well.
Route running — one of the best.
Hands — one of the best.
Run after the catch — one of the best.
Getting open — maybe the best.
Competitive drive — the best.
“It is his route running, it's unbelievable,” receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “For him to be 5-10, he can play outside, he can play inside, sharp routes. He understands how to get open, which a lot of guys do exactly what the coaches draw up. He does what the coaches draw up with a little sauce on it.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger agreed with the Brown ad-libbing being a key but added some context to it.
“Yeah, and sometimes they are bigger adjustments,” Roethlisberger said. “Trust me, a lot of AB's stuff is because I know where he is going to be, and a lot of it is because we improvise and make some crazy things happen. Sometimes, he is over there instead of over here, and we make it happen.”
Whatever it has been, it has worked.
Richard Mann, who has been coaching receivers in the NFL since 1982, said Brown is one of the best he's ever coached, and there is a number of reasons for that other than work ethic.
“I have had a lot of receivers, and it is hard to compare, but I venture to say from the run-and-catch aspect, routes and stuff like that, he is getting to the point where nobody else has been,” Mann said. “I've had guys who have had a lot of speed, but he is something special. Everything is special about him.”
Brown had a record-breaking year in 2015. He set single-season franchise records with 136 receptions for 1,834 yards. He eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark in nine games and became the first player in league history to have consecutive 125-catch seasons.
“You never expect something like this from a sixth-round pick,” Roethlisberger said. “We expect good things to happen but didn't know his work ethic or what he could bring to the table. What he does is pretty awesome.”
Brown finished first or second in the league in 13 statistical categories last year.
Still, as probably expected, that's not enough for Brown.
“You always have to get better,” Brown said. “You only get better or worse. I have to continue to get better. Last year or the past don't matter. It is what you do now moving forward, and Monday night presents the first opportunity.”
Brown can become the most accomplished receiver ever in a span of four years. But he also has a real shot at doing something that nobody has ever accomplished in the history of the league — gain 2,000 yards in a season.
Brown came up 166 yards short last year but likely would have surpassed the mark if Roethlisberger didn't miss four-plus games with an injury.
“It is a possibility, but the key is — and we've talked a lot about this — part of his success is having other guys be an option,” Roethlisberger said. “If he is getting double-teamed every single play, it is going to be hard for him to get the snaps. We need other people to stand up and draw attention away from him at times.”
Even though Brown downplayed 2,000 yards, it is on his mind.
“Anything is possible,” Mann said. “What we are striving to do is to get better than last year. You can't stay the same.”
Brown owns three of the top eight spots when it comes to single-season receiving yards including 1,834 last year. Only Calvin Johnson (1,942), Julio Jones (1,871) and Jerry Rice (1,848) have had more.
Statistically speaking, Brown could reach 2,000 yards and beyond this year barring injury. In the games Roethlisberger started or played more than three quarters, Brown averaged 133.3 yards. That projects over a season to 2,132 yards.
However, Roethlisberger missed four games with a knee injury in which Brown was ultimately a non-factor, gaining 42, 45 an 24 yards with the combination of Mike Vick and Landry Jones at quarterback. It eliminated any chance of surpassing 2,000 yards.
“He cares about the stats, he wants them,” Roethlisberger said. “Show me a receiver who doesn't care about his stats, but that's what makes him great.”
Maybe the greatest of all time? Well, at least the greatest four-year stretch of all time.