Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown had a breakout season in 2013, with 110 receptions for 1,499 yards (both second in the league) and eight touchdowns. On the flip side, Victor Cruz had a dismal season for the New York Giants with just 73 catches for 998 yards and four touchdowns.
Cruz and Brown will both be the No. 1 wide receiver for their team, but should fantasy football owners hold one of them in higher regard this year?
The Case For Antonio Brown
Brown was targeted 166 times last season, good for fourth-most in the league, and his 19 red zone targets were tied for seventh-most among wide receivers. The Steelers let veterans Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery leave via free agency, so Brown may even more clearly be Ben Roethlisberger’s top target this year.
Brown was incredibly consistent in 2013, as he became the first player in NFL history with at least five catches and 50 yards in all 16 games. That will not repeat itself this year, but 100 catches is still easily within reach for Brown.
Brown added to his fantasy value with a punt return touchdown last year, and owners in leagues that count return yardage should be aware he also had 409 punt return yards in 2013.
The Case For Victor Cruz
Cruz started fast in 2013, with three touchdowns in Week 1 and 26 catches for 425 yards (three 100-yard games) and four touchdowns over the first four games. Even with quarterback Eli Manning going through the worst season of his career, Cruz had at least five receptions in nine of his 14 games last season before missing Week 16 and 17 with knee and concussion issues.
Based on Cruz’s per game averages from last year, his catch and yardage totals (83 receptions for 1,140 yards) would have compared favorably to 2011 (82 receptions for 1,536 yards) and 2012 (86 receptions for 1,092 yards) if he had played all 16 games.
A change in offensive system, with former Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo in place as offensive coordinator, should suit Cruz perfectly and put his strengths on full display.
Brown is on the radar as a WR1, particularly in PPR leagues, and Cruz is in line to rebound with a better situation around him and Manning having nowhere to go but up after last year. I wouldn’t be shocked to see both guys finish with 100-plus receptions this year, along with 1,100-1,200 yards and 5-10 touchdowns. But I’m hesitant to rely on Brown as a top-end wide receiver, with 2013 looking like his high-water mark, and his current third-round average draft position dictates doing just that. On the other hand, Cruz carries an average draft position in the fourth round right now and based on that as well as better upside he is my choice.