When Antonio Brown joined the New England Patriots in 2019, it immediately seemed like he and Tom Brady would be a match made in football heaven: Two maniacal competitors who entered the league as underdogs and built Hall of Fame résumés through indomitable will and work ethic.
In their debut as teammates, less than two weeks after Brown signed, the pair flashed excitement by connecting on four of eight targets for 14 yards per catch, a score, and three first downs. The chemistry they flashed with no offseason and very little prep time seemed to foreshadow a season that would be historic at best or extremely entertaining at worst.
Those plans changed when Brown was cut by New England for off-field matters after one game with the organization. But hope was restored in 2020 when Brady brought his talents to Tampa Bay and began recruiting his former house guest. Brown signed with the Buccaneers at the end of October and played his first game off suspension in week 9.
What say the stats?
Brown finished his eight-game regular season ranked first on the team in receptions per game (5.6), third in yards per game (60.4) and QB Rating (109.8), and tied with Rob Gronkowski for third in total receptions (45), all among players with at least 20 targets.
The numbers show Brady still had plenty of trust in AB and wanted to get him involved from the jump. The five-time All-Pro pass catcher repaid that confidence to the tune of four touchdowns and 3.4 conversions per game as the third or fourth option during the regular season. And though he wasn’t as statistically prolific in the postseason, the receiver did score once in a tight battle vs Washington and again in the Super Bowl.
Now that we’ve got an idea of what AB’s 2020 was like on paper, let’s go through his targets from last season and see how the Buccaneers used his skill set in year one.
Know your role
Brown served as the Bucs’ second outside receiver behind Mike Evans and saw most of his action from a reduced split inside the numbers, often in stack looks. This put him closer to the formation and created more space to work outside, rather than having out-breaking route options limited by the sideline.
Brown’s 8.9-yard average depth of target, which ranked last among Tampa Bay’s starters, reflects how he was used as more of a short-to-intermediate threat. His route tree consisted largely of routes meant to get him the ball quickly, often in space for easy yards-after-catch opportunities where he could capitalize on his explosiveness and vision.
These included screens often attached to RPOs, Omaha’s (short out routes with a diagonal stem and rounded break), curls, slants, and shallow crossers. He was also given a healthy dose of sweeps and jet passes when closer to the formation.
Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich even gave Brown a couple of targets from the backfield, but one was uncatchable and the other was dropped.
The Bucs didn’t use Brown in the slot much, with most of those opportunities going to young stud Chris Godwin, but Brown looked great when targeted inside, where he scored three of his four regular season touchdowns. He was also a reliable chain-mover on quick-hitters to the flat.
Brady did try connecting with Brown downfield a number of times on fades and double-moves, but the chemistry seems to be a work in progress.
Brown recently signed a new one-year deal with the Buccaneers laden with incentives. For Brown to see every penny, he’ll need to catch at least 70 passes for 800 yards and seven scores while playing 45% of snaps and being active for a Super Bowl.
As long as the receiver can avoid injury and suspension, these marks seem realistic considering his relationship with Brady and the instant impact he made after joining the 2020 Bucs midseason.
There is also plenty of room for his role to grow in this offense, both as an explosive space player and a deep threat if he and Brady can shore things up in that area of the field.
Good luck, NFL.