By Dan Hosler
What kind of a fantasy controversy could there be among the Pittsburgh wide receivers? There is certainly enough to make you think about the situation, the data, and the external factors before you decide which, if either, to invest in. On the surface it appears to be the same Pittsburgh situation we have seen the past few years. Mike Wallace is the guy to own. He is a fantasy stud. Or is he?
When you look at the 2011 total stats for Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown both had great years.
Mike Wallace – 72 receptions, 1193 yards, and 8 touchdowns
Antonio Brown – 69 receptions, 1108 yards, and 2 touchdowns
These numbers need to be examined more closely to fully understand how the season played out.
Mike Wallace – 25 receptions, 454 yards, 2 touchdowns
Antonio Brown – 15 receptions, 223 yards, 0 touchdowns
Mike Wallace – 18 receptions, 336 yards, 3 touchdowns
Antonio Brown – 19 receptions, 208 yards, 1 touchdown
Mike Wallace – 15 receptions, 177 yards, 3 touchdowns
Antonio Brown – 16 receptions, 343 yards, 0 touchdowns
Mike Wallace – 14 receptions, 216 receptions, 0 touchdowns
Antonio Brown – 19 receptions, 334 yards, 1 touchdown
Breakdown of Targets – Keep in mind that I am separating his into a 7 game clump and a 9 game clump. Brown’s stats took a big jump starting in week 8.
Mike Wallace – 51 targets
Antonio Brown – 48 targets
Mike Wallace – 63 targets
Antonio Brown – 78 targets
The steady decline in production by Wallace is somewhat alarming. When looking solely at Wallace’s stats without factoring in Brown, it is very easy to isolate the problem. His first half targets were similar to that of his second half targets. So the problem was production, not opportunity. Despite a relatively even distribution of targets, Wallace had over 66% of his yardage in the first half of the season. Teams were able to shutdown Wallace at will and take away the big play. Some people would say that just proves Wallace is more important to their offense. If he can get taken out of a game that easily, is he a true number 1 WR or a one trick pony?
Over the course of the year, Antonio Brown developed a good rapport with Ben Roethlisberger which led to his production and targets growing steadily. By the end of the season he finished with more targets than Mike Wallace. The main difference in fantasy value was the touchdowns. Wallace finished with 6 more touchdowns. I think Brown’s lack of touchdowns was somewhat of a fluke when looking at his targets and yard after catch numbers. I expect this number to go up in the future. In contrast to Wallace, Brown’s big plays went up in the second half of the year. This was, in part, due to teams double teaming Wallace of course but it was also due to the increased opportunity. Roethlisberger looked towards Brown more often as he became comfortable with him.
There are three questions going forward. First: What effect does Todd Haley have on these wide receivers? It is impossible to tell if Haley will bring past tendencies with him or if he will be following the close watch and guidance of Mike Tomlin. Second: Will the Mike Wallace contract situation become a distraction or lead him to miss any time? If either happens, it is good news for Brown. Third: Will Isaac Redman or someone else be the answer at running back or will the lack of running game lead to inflated passing numbers for both guys?
In this situation, I believe the safest bet is to go by what we have seen recently. It isn’t like there is a total coaching and philosophy overhaul. As Brown matures as a wide receiver, it is possible we see a similar situation as the New York Giants. Whichever wide receiver the opposing defense zones in on will open things up for the wide receiver on the opposite side. This could benefit both guys in the long term if Mike Wallace comes back to Earth with his contract demands.
As a football fan, sometimes you have to watch the games and let your eyes make the decisions for you. Antonio Brown has the “it” factor. He finds soft spots in coverage and then makes plays with the ball in his hands. He uses the same mentality in the passing game that he uses in the return game. With only 25 games of regular season professional experience, Brown still has a lot of room to learn and improve.
To be clear, I am in no way suggesting that Antonio Brown is more valuable than Mike Wallace to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In fantasy football you have to view your players as investments. In this case I am suggesting that Mike Wallace is not a good value at his ADP and it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to see Antonio Brown out produce Wallace this year or going forward. Wallace is being taken as a low end WR1/high end WR2 over two rounds before Brown. Given the numbers and trends above, it is obvious to me that Antonio Brown is the better investment.