Antonio Brown Fantasy Outlook: How his frostbite, helmet dispute holdout affect rankings

August 13, 201920min

It won’t be long before the majority of fantasy football owners are taking part in their drafts and auctions. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, Antonio Brown would’ve been a surefire early-round pick. As each new Adam Schefter tweet makes Brown look more and more shaky (Frostbitten feet? Holdout over a helmet?), fantasy owners across the country are grappling with a tricky balance of valuing a top-10 WR who might not play. How far should he fall down your rankings?

For a while, it looked like Tyreek Hill might bring the uncertainty to the WR rankings in the preseason. Then the NFL announced he wouldn’t be suspended, and the top wideout tier came into focus. Eight players who we believed could all finish as the top fantasy wide receiver made up that top grouping, including Brown.

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Now, drafting Brown is starting to feel like a second-round risk not worth taking. Let’s break it all down and see just what you should do on draft day with such a high-risk, high-reward option.

(Update: ESPN is reporting that Antonio Brown will be at the Raiders’ facility on August 13.)


Antonio Brown’s frostbite foot injury

Before any of the news about helmets came out, there was already reason to be concerned about Brown. Reportedly, he went into a cryotherapy machine in France without the proper footwear. When he came out, both of his feet were heavily frostbitten.

No one really knew what that meant. Some reports questioned whether he’d be ready for the start of the season, while others were sure he’d be just fine. It wasn’t something fantasy owners had been forced to deal with before. Normally, star wide receivers don’t get frostbite on their feet in the middle of the summer.

After Brown had disappeared from the Steelers at the end of last season, Oakland seemed like it could provide a fresh start. Instead, though, Brown hadn’t even suited up for the Raiders and he was already generating negative news.

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Antonio Brown wants to wear his old helmet

Things got more complicated with Brown in the past few days. First, it was reported that the Raiders didn’t know where he was. Then, further reports emerged that Brown was engaged in a dispute with the league about his helmet.

In the offseason, the NFL had ruled that certain helmets would no longer be grandfathered in to the new head-safety rules the league has been adopting. Players who’d been allowed to play with older helmet models would be forced to don the new headgear. Brown isn’t the only player affected by this ruling. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are among other players who had to upgrade their helmets for the new season. Brown wasn’t happy about it, though.

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While reports vary on who did the painting, Brown’s Pittsburgh helmet ended up in Oakland and was painted Raiders’ colors. According to Sports Illustrated’s Michael Silver, Brown tried to wear his old helmet multiple times in the first few weeks of training camp. Brown wore a new helmet when he was asked to, though.

In the past week, Brown has taken a harder stance. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Brown told Oakland officials that if he isn’t allowed to wear his old helmet, he won’t play football again. That suggests Brown would retire if he wasn’t granted some sort of exception.

The rule won’t be changing for Brown, though. While the NFL hasn’t publicly addressed Brown’s situation specifically, the league’s vice president of communications tweeted Monday morning to clarify the rules further.

Brown’s helmet is older than 10 years old, so it won’t be getting certified. There is no path to him being cleared to wear the helmet he wants.

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Where should fantasy owners draft Antonio Brown?

The most important aspect of this situation, as it stands, is that it’s fluid. New information emerges each day, meaning that as the preseason goes on, there’s a chance the answer to this question changes. For now, with Schefter reporting that Brown won’t play without being allowed to wear his old helmet which he won’t be allowed to wear, the risk is sky high.

With no controversy whatsoever, Brown deserved to go in the second round of drafts. Even his foot injury might’ve only docked him a little bit since it didn’t seem like he’d miss much, if any, action. This is different because Brown already proved at the end of the 2018 season that he’ll stand by his convictions and miss action.

There’s no way if you’re drafting today that you can pick Brown in the second round. The more risk he introduces to the situation, the less likely it is he belongs in the conversation of wide receivers who could lead the position in fantasy points.

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After that, it’s about finding the point where the risk and reward balance each other out. This could depend a lot on your league. If it’s winner-take-all, that balancing point might be earlier because you need to have the best possible team. If having a consistent team is beneficial in your setup, you might want to avoid that risk longer.

Maybe Brown deserves to go in the fifth round, somewhere near Cooper Kupp and Chris Godwin, or in the sixth, alongside Jarvis Landry and Alshon Jeffery. Without further negative information, though, it seems hard to let Brown get past that point. You’re deep into third receiver territory by the seventh round, where the likes of Christian Kirk and Robby Anderson dwell. They aren’t league winners. Brown could be.

As of Aug. 12, that’s the answer to the question of how far you can afford to let Brown slide in fantasy drafts: the seventh round. It’s hard to imagine that every owner will let him fall that far, though. That means you’ll have to take a chance if you want to get him, maybe as high as the third round.

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Fantasy outlook for the Oakland Raiders

Brown was a huge reason that Derek Carr fit on our QB sleepers list this preseason. Carr would be throwing to a better No. 1 WR than he ever had before. Any action Brown misses hurts Carr immensely.

The Raiders also brought in a new second receiver this offseason, former Chargers wideout Tyrell Williams. He was already looking at an increase in targets from his third WR role in L.A. Brown missing time would boost Williams’ target share even higher. Of course, Williams would also get much more of each defense’s attention and maybe be less efficient on those increased targets, but the overall volume would almost have to be good for him.

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An extended Brown absence could also bode well for rookie running back Josh Jacobs. After being selected in the first round, Jacobs already fit at the top of Oakland’s depth chart. They might have to run more, now, if Brown misses time. Again, increased volume would only boost Jacobs’ production, too.

The best scenario for Carr and the overall Raiders’ offense is obviously having Brown in the fold and healthy. There could be value to gained at those secondary spots, though, if Brown truly does miss regular season action.

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