Antonio Brown is only going to get better with the Buccaneers.
Despite the off-field concerns regarding Antonio Brown, it’s hard to argue that he has fallen off as one of the most dominant receivers in the NFL. A shortened season with the Buccaneers makes it look like Brown took a step back in 2020, but in reality, Brown was excellent last season, and he is on the verge of an even better 2021.
In just eight games in 2020, Brown had 45 receptions for 483 yards and four touchdowns. Multiplied out over a season, 90 receptions, 966 yards, and eight touchdowns is a spectacular line for a WR3.
That’s what’s so great about Brown on this offense; AB isn’t even Brady’s second option. In most games, Brown could be behind Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Rob Gronkowski, but that is the beauty of the Bucs’ offense.
To beat a unit with this much firepower through the air, you have to get smaller on defense with more defensive backs. By doing this, you open up the box for the run game, but you also guarantee your third receiver a matchup against the third or fourth DB on the depth chart, and in this case, you have a Hall of Famer to use to your advantage.
Brown saw his efficiency drop in this role with 10.7 yards per reception in Tampa, a bit beneath his career rate of 13.3, but it shows his shift in relation to the new offense.
The Bucs’ third WR doesn’t have to do anything crazy; he just has to be consistent, which is precisely what AB did. While yards per catch dropped off, Brown posted the second-best catch rate of his career, and the offense felt this on numerous important third downs.
Evans, Gronk, and even Scotty Miller stretch the field out vertically better than most pass catchers in the NFL. Godwin is one of the most athletic slot receivers in the league, and Brown can flourish as a simple, intermediate safety valve for Brady, essentially able to do anything based on the need.
Brown threatens defenses as a high volume option, as seen in the final game of the regular season against Atlanta as he chased several performance-based bonuses, but he also impacts games with fewer targets, such as the first round of the playoffs where he accounted for 49 yards and a touchdown with just three targets.
As the season went on, Brown started to look more comfortable in the offense. Even without a preseason or training camp to get used to his new team, Brown still fit like a glove when it mattered most. Now, one of the greatest wide receivers of all time has more chemistry built with his teammates and coaching staff, and the rest of the NFL will have a nightmare on defense every time they face the Buccaneers.
It may be a tall task, but even the Bucs’ third receiver could go off for 1,000 receiving yards this season. If Antonio Brown is putting up numbers like that, which is the pace that he was on last year, there isn’t a secondary in the league that can keep up with Tampa.
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