Antonio Brown needs to be force for Raiders now

Oakland Raiders

Now that Antonio Brown has acquiesced to wearing an NFL-approved helmet, the focus turns to how much the Oakland Raiders will need to rely on their high-profile offseason acquisition.

The Oakland Raiders need Antonio Brown to be great.

It’s that simple.

Scanning the Raiders roster, Brown is the only player who has game-changing ability. Though the Raiders have a few intriguing pieces like safety Lamarcus Joyner, first-round gamble Clelin Ferrell, and another talented wide receiver in Tyrell Williams, Brown is the only player who jumps out as a superstar. They need him to have another record-breaking year in 2019 in order to have a chance.

Jon Gruden’s paycheck and wild ways ensure that he will always be on the hot seat. Last year, he gambled when trading Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, who were his two most valuable players. Now, he’s built a team around those draft picks and Brown, who is being entrusted to coax a major bounce-back season out of Derek Carr.

Few expect the Raiders to make the postseason this year, and if the Raiders are even remotely good, it’ll be a pleasant surprise to most observers around the league. And if the Raiders are to emerge as a threat in an increasingly loaded AFC West, Brown has to be the one to carry this team.

While with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown often shared the spotlight and the responsibility of leading the team with other star players like Le’Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, and JuJu Smith-Schuster. In Oakland, he’s the guy. There’s no Mack, no Cooper, and no slam-dunk Hall of Fame quarterback. It’s all on Brown. Any unlikely success from this team would be the result of his brilliance on offense.

So it’s a good thing Brown is one of the most consistent players of his generation. Last season, Brown caught an insane 15 touchdown passes in 15 games, turning in a sixth straight 100-catch season despite sharing the workload with Smith-Schuster. The year before, Brown eclipsed 1,500 receiving yards with a jaw-dropping 15.2 yards per reception on his 101 catches.

Those are numbers Brown will need to replicate in 2019. Though the Raiders will get Williams involved and have a few other intriguing pieces in speed demon JJ Nelson and diamond-in-the-rough Ryan Grant, Brown will be spoonfed targets by Carr. Like Brown, Carr will be itching to prove his many critics wrong this season, and the two could forge a critical bond.

If the Raiders are to exceed expectations and avoid another last-placed finish in the AFC West, they’ll need Carr and Brown to develop a fast partnership. Carr had issues hooking up with Cooper, who quickly re-established himself with the sharper Dak Prescott in Dallas, and the onus could be on Brown to bridge that gap. Brown has the experience and a notorious work ethic, which enabled him to go from little-known small-school sixth-round pick with underwhelming measurables to one of the most statistically dominant offensive players in NFL history.

Brown created a legacy of on-field greatness in Pittsburgh, but he has the opportunity to do something a little more special with the Raiders. On a team with no real national expectations but plenty of internal pressure, Brown has a chance to step out into the open as a leader for this franchise, which has been lacking on the leadership front in its recent history.

The Raiders are a once-proud organization with serious ambitions, and Brown is the face of those ambitions. He’s the proven superstar, the upcoming breadwinner on offense, and the man garnering the most attention. In spite of the fact that the narratives around Brown this offseason are negative as a result of his exit from Pittsburgh and his helmet preferences, he has a chance to turn all those comments on their heads in 2019 by doing what he does best – shattering records when he’s on the field.

This is shaping up to be perhaps the most important season for Brown when it comes to shaping his own legacy. And for Gruden, no single player is more crucial to changing the perception of the coach back to “genius” from “bungling former talking head”. Brown has enough internal motivation to have another incredible year, and that’s honestly what’s expected from a man currently riding six straight 100-reception seasons.

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But for the Raiders, Brown is something more. He isn’t just their meal ticket; he is the only player truly capable of transcending the offense, hiding Carr’s blemishes, overcoming question marks on a new-look defense, and re-instilling confidence into a team with an uncertain future and an eccentric coach who can be hard to trust. In order to right the ship, the Raiders will need Brown to be great, yes. But they may need him to be more than that. They may need a former 1,800 yard receiver to somehow, some way, be greater than he’s ever been, even at the age of 31.

It’s a challenge that Brown will undoubtedly eager to meet, as all the chatter, doubts, negativity, and tumult of the 2019 season have created a chip on his shoulder bigger than any draft or contractual snub ever could.

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