Antonio Brown has been perhaps the best wide receiver in football for the last five years. He also has been involved in plenty of drama this season, culminating with his conflict with Ben Roethlisberger and quitting on the Steelers last week.
Those actions, in the mind of one former scout, justify why he slid to the sixth round, and confirm that teams knew what they were doing when 194 players were selected in front of him.
This, of course, is an absurdity that would fall apart if you actually had to list all the players that a team would prefer instead of Antonio Brown because of his attitude coupled with his ability, even with this latest episode still fresh, to try to get anywhere close to the sixth round.
Brown’s breakout season was 2013. Sixty players drafted in front of him–virtually two full rounds–have not played in the NFL since that season, including first round pick Tim Tebow. So to say that his sixth round pick status is justified is to say you prefer guys who could never stick with a roster over an All-Pro wide receiver. Only 54 other players from the 2010 draft class were even on an active roster last year, and 21 of those were selected in the first round.
Brown is tied for the lead in all-pro seasons (with Rob Gronkowski) and in pro bowls (with three others). There is no sane universe where you would forego taking Antonio Brown with a first round pick if you had perfect knowledge of the future, up until today. This was a draft, by the way, where Ndamukong Suh went 2nd overall, and he’s no stranger to controversy. It’s also a draft that featured Daryl Washington, Aaron Hernandez, and Greg Hardy all getting drafted before Antonio Brown, if we want to talk about falling due to character concerns.
Here are the ten receivers drafted before Antonio Brown was taken in the 2010, ranging from the 3rd to 6th round: Dezmon Briscoe, Carlton Mitchell, Kerry Meier, Riley Cooper, David Reed, Jacoby Ford, Marcus Easley, Mike Williams, Mardy Gilyard, Taylor Price.
You know how many 6th round picks have made a pro bowl as a starting wide receiver since Antonio Brown was drafted in 2010? Zero. You know the last wide receiver to make a pro bowl out of the 6th round before Brown? Terance Mathis in the 1994 season. That’s out of 138 guys picked since 1990.
So yeah, Antonio Brown’s actions in the last week don’t somehow prove that teams knew what they were doing when they passed for 194 picks nearly nine years ago. Look, scouting is an imperfect science. It has to be tough to forecast not only the athletic upside of 22-year-olds but also their drive, attitudes, and issues. Balancing how those will play out can be tough. What shouldn’t be as hard is accurately reflecting on the past and putting it in context.