Antonio Brown is arguably the best receiver in the NFL right now, and is easily one of the best receivers of this decade. He also slipped all the way down to the 6th round, pick 195, to the Steelers in the 2010 draft. And as they say, the rest is history. But what if Brown hadn’t slipped that far down? Recently, he revealed in an interview that the Steelers and Bills both called him at the same time on draft night, and he answered the call from Pittsburgh. But what if it had gone the other way?
That year, the Bills were the owners of the 192nd pick. While they may have been interested in Antonio Brown, they ended up taking Danny Batten, a linebacker from South Dakota State. While Batten had little impact in his career, as stated above, Brown had a large impact in becoming one of the best players in the league. So, let’s discuss this scenario: The Bills took Antonio Brown, wide receiver from Central Michigan with the 192nd pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Three picks later, with the 195th pick, the Steelers select Batten.
That season the Bills finished 4-12 while the Steelers made the Super Bowl that season, Brown had very little impact in his rookie season. So, let’s start looking at his next season, 2011. That was the year that Brown established himself as the number 3 receiver in Pittsburgh, behind Hines Ward and Mike Wallace. He also became the first player in NFL history to have over 1,000 receiving yards and over 1,000 returning yards in the same season. This was on a Steelers team that had other serious receiving threats running around, eating up yardage, and Brown still made the Pro-Bowl.
With this information, it is fairly easy to predict that Brown probably would have been the number one receiver in Buffalo by his second season there. And while Ryan Fitzpatrick is no Big Ben, he isn’t a horrible quarterback, and he would have benefitted greatly from having a receiver of Brown’s caliber. The Bills already had a solid defense with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, and a quality running game with CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson. With a quality offensive line anchored by Andy Levitre and Eric Wood, it’s fairly obvious that receiver was by far their biggest need. But now with AB anchoring that side as well, it’s not a stretch to say that the Bills could have been playoff contenders in 2011.
With the additions of Stephon Gilmore and Cordy Glenn in the draft and Mario Williams in free agency, the 2012 Bills had a much stronger roster, despite still finishing 6-10. But that was mostly because the offense could never truly get rolling. With Brown and the already-quality running game, the offense would’ve gotten going very quickly, and the Bills could’ve been a heavy AFC contender that year.
I’m going to stop this scenario after three seasons because at a certain point, it becomes more speculation than facts. But it is very true that where the Bills are today, versus where they would be with Antonio Brown, are two very different places. In fact, with Brown, the Bills may have even been able to develop a franchise quarterback like EJ Manuel, who in fact busted in no small part because of the lack of receivers in Buffalo.
On the other side of the coin, look at the Steelers: if they hadn’t gotten their hands on Brown, they would not be the perennial AFC contender that we know them as today. They still would’ve had the talent to make a Super Bowl run in 2010, but after that, their fortunes would have rested much more on their ability to draft plug-and-play starters than being able to develop players.
As you can see from what we have reviewed in this article, teams tend to continue in the same direction. The Steelers continue to draft underrated receivers, the Bills continue to need receivers, but not be able to draft, and the NFL as a whole is in a continuous shift of which teams are on top and which are rebuilding. But the key of this article is that the smallest of things, even a phone call, can change the course of not only the franchise in question, but the entire NFL.