The common training thread between The Two Best Wide Receivers of the past 10 years

(featured image from

The wide receiver position is in the spotlight with fantasy football now after taking down the running back position as the most important fantasy position, but what will they do with it.

With week one ending with at least three of the top 20 wide receivers being injured, will this position be able to hold its advantage over the running backs who were shunned due to poor reliability. While the wide receiver position holds a lower injury risk with contact injuries, it seems that the dynamic nature of the position may be neck and neck with running backs when it comes to non-contact injuries.

This made me look a little closer to find trends to these injuries. I initially went with my usual thought process which is valid but can be trumped. I typically believe that Freaky Talented players are at a higher risk for injuries as their bodies endure so much force from their above average size and/or speed. I thought I would find that the receivers were just getting so talented that injuries were increasing with that talent.

This hypothesis led me to the most recent, best wide receivers I could think of….

Calvin Johnson retired last year as the best wide receiver in the league. His production faded a little toward the end of his nine years, but I can win the argument that he was the best when he left.

NFL: Detroit Lions-Training Camp

The best argument to Johnson being the best when he left would have been the current best receiver in the league Antonio Brown. I am sure some of you will point to Julio Jones as an argument, but I will simply sit this link right here and in my most manly voice say “boy, bye!”


These two wide receivers are clearly the two best receivers of the last decade or so, but they are like night and day if you just glance at them. Calvin Johnson stands 6-foot and 5-inches tall and weighs in at 236 when he retired and Antonio Brown is a pedestrian 5-foot 10-inches and weighs in at 186 lbs.  Physically I could find no comparison to explain why both receivers who played nearly every play for their team were able to stay on the field and avoid injury.

At first glance I would have expected ligament and joint injury from Calvin Johnson, considering he moved that 236 lbs around faster than nearly every wide receiver in the league with a 4.35-40 yard dash time. Johnson was rumored to have bad knees but they couldn’t have been that bad as he only missed 9 games in 9 years and is scheduled to hit the “Dancing with the Stars” stage this season.

At first glance with Antonio Brown, I would have expected a DeSean Jackson type wide receiver who has missed 17 games in 8 seasons as his small frame appears to make him vulnerable to injury. Brown defies this logic as in six seasons, he has only missed three games due to injury.

In essence Calvin Johnson should have been getting beat up by his body and Antonio Brown should be getting beat up by other bodies.

This has not been the case, and it makes sense when you study each player closely. I have always been a proponent of functional training that incorporates balance and control. I value eccentric movements more than concentric movement, as eccentric usually protects from injury, while concentric many times causes injury. This is why I frown upon players who seem to only focus on becoming more explosive. Like many things in life, the best decision is to have balance be the goal.

The best way to avoid an injury is to be in control. Almost every non contact injury you can think of stems from losing control. If your body moves in a direction too far, something gets injured. If something moves too fast, something gets injured. Control is the key, and it seems that Johnson and Brown both understand this.

Both of these star wide receivers incorporate Pilates into their training, and I believe this is one of the primary reasons they enjoyed such healthy careers.

The three factors I like to look at first when I analyze a players injury profile is their weight, speed, and training regimen. Often times I get to the training part and see the same thing over and over. Players are focused on more speed, more strength and more explosion. I have nothing against these areas of focus when there is a need, but sometimes I feel like athletes are trying to put more water in a glass that is already full. This reminds me of the guy in the gym who only bench presses, despite the fact that his chest is huge, his max is 500 lbs, but his calves look like toothpicks. In this scenario, the explosive skill set that players are striving for represents the chest and the lack of control that some of these athletes have are the toothpick calves.

I hate to see a player coming back from injury show off these crazy fast twitch muscle fiber drills as a sign that they’re back. I usually want to jump through the screen and encourage them to meditate, do yoga, join a Pilates class, or focus on some eccentric contraction activity. 

I am glad to see that some of them get it, when it comes to how to train a body and skill set that has been blessed with talent. Sometimes talent just needs to be controlled.

If players like Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. follow in the footsteps of Calvin Johnson and Antonio Brown with training regimens that are conducive to preservation and progression in a balanced way, we all win by getting to watch their greatness for longer.

Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Antonio Brown

Which player is more likely to play the entire season without injury?

You can find comparisons of players all over the internet. Some give you the experts opinions; some crunch a bunch of data based on past and projected numbers; and some just lay the information in front of you for you to decide for yourself. My goal with my “versus” breakdowns is to give you the most important ability of your prospective fantasy player, and that is his availABILITY! I can’t take credit for this line as I have heard Herm Edwards say it many times, but I can attest to its truth. With many years in this fantasy game, I have learned that availability definitely matters most. No matter how great of a team you pick, it is about the team you can actually roster on game day. I will consider each players injury risk floor using various data, as well as their production ceiling. Ultimately I will use Injury Science to make a final recommendation on which player you can count on most!

Odell Beckham Jr. 


The wide receiver position can be different for each player as some receivers travel to the middle of the field often to meet up with linebackers and safeties, while some are always down the field or near the sidelines to limit their injury exposure. Odell Beckham Jr. is so special that I really don’t know that he fits either group. He seems to avoid the big hit over the middle with pure speed and quickness. If anything, I fear that Beckham Jr. will injure himself with his own talent rather than another player injuring him. I often use the term “Freaky Talented” and this describes OBJ to a tee. He can run, jump, and cut at a ridiculous rate, and in many cases this type of ability can cause injury if not managed and controlled well. The fact that Beckham has suffered multiple hamstring injuries during his NFL career and a groin injury in college, tells me that he is as much a danger to himself as others are to him. Muscular injuries are usually a symptom of your body not being able to keep up with your own talent. This tendency with Beckham worries me, if I am to consider using no lower than a second round pick on him. Furthermore, Beckham Jr.’s recent training suggest that he is focused on becoming even more explosive. I know being explosive is the name of the game on the football field, but at some point I think a bomb shows that it has enough explosiveness to blow up anything. Upon achieving a bomb with a maximum explositvity, I think I would start thinking about finding ways to contain that bomb if needed. I do not claim to be an insider to Beckham’s workouts, but the publicized videos and descriptions seem to be all about explosion, speed, and quickness. Fantasy owners who plan to invest in OBJ should hope that containment is at least a secondary focus  in his training, and that maybe it is simply not as publicized.

With Beckhams injury history, eccentric exercises, muscle balancing exercises, as well as dynamic flexibility activities would be the type of approach which would likely avoid another muscle strain or worse.

Antonio Brown

antonio brown

Antonio Brown has staked his claim as one of the best wide receivers in the league. From a profile standpoint, Brown almost looks like a more mature version of Odell Beckham Jr. From the standpoint of injury history, Brown shows a much more favorable past. Aside from a concussion that came from a dirty hit last year, Brown has not been injured since 2012 with a high ankle sprain. Considering the volume that he gets as Ben Roethlisberger’s number one wide receiver, this is very impressive. When I looked a little into Antonio Brown’s training regimen, it helped me understand how he stays off of the injury report. It doesn’t take long to find images of Brown holding difficult Pilates poses, and it appears that this has been a staple in his training regimen for some time. Unlike Beckham Jr., I did not hear the word explosion much and the overriding themes were Pilates and field work.

I believe Antonio Brown to be very talented, but I have always put him more in my “Supremely Skilled” category. This category is usually for players who rely more on their skill than their talent, and in looking at Brown’s training; you can see that this is reflected. A player who relies on skill will often do more field work and focus more on things like body control, techniques, etc., while their “Freaky Talented” counterparts are often trying to keep their talent bag filled to the top. At 27 years old, I consider Antonio Brown to be near his physical prime and consider his risk for injury low.

My Pick

As you could probably pick up on my breakdowns of each player, I consider Antonio Brown the clear choice. The production ceiling is clearly higher with a Pittsburgh Steelers offense that is likely the most aggressive offense in the league. The injury risk floor for Brown and Beckham is about even as the age advantage and weight advantage go to Beckham.  Antonio Brown’s sub 190 lb frame will always be somewhat of a risk, as a big hit could likely cause him injury. However, this injury risk factor is somewhat offset with his supreme skill to set up his routes, get in and out of cuts, and get down or out-of-bounds rather than take big hits. Either of these players is capable of the 10 catch, 200 yard, 4 TD game; but Beckham is the most likely one to miss a few quarters or maybe a few games because he blows out a tire from going too fast. The notorious and recurrent nature of hamstring injuries and the appearance that explosiveness is the top priority for Beckham, seals the deal for me. I would not be surprised if Odell Beckham Jr. missed 1-3 games this season. My guess is it would again be some type of soft tissue injury that occurs in direct response to his explosiveness. Hopefully for Odell Beckham Jr. owners, he will not miss any big time spots for you, as it is very difficult to overcome losing such a high pick late in the season.

Pick Antonio Brown over Odell Beckham Jr. with confidence this season and feel comfort that you will likely have a star receiver who will produce for you every single game.


Ben Roethlisberger should play this week!

October 23, 2015

I know all you hear and see is that Ben Roethlisberger (SEP Reliability Rating – 98) is not likely to play this week and truthfully there is no way to know who to believe.  There is a chance that Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers fully expect him to play but would rather catch the Kansas City Chiefs a little off guard, or all the reports could be honest and accurate.  The only thing we can do is look at the facts.  Ben was diagnosed with a Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) sprain and a bone bruise that occurred on September 27th.  I know you heard 4-6 weeks, but frankly I would put it at more like 3-5 weeks for the grade 2 sprain that he suffered. When you add in the fact that this is the NFL, where everything moves faster; I flat-out expected him to miss 3 games and then return.

I have talked about the MCL in the past and generally speaking I don’t worry about a player that has this injury trying to get back on the field right on time or even a little early.  I find the knee to be one of the easiest joints to provide extra support for with bracing or taping.  Ben Roethlisberger is a mobile quarterback in the pocket but he does not have to make signficant cuts at high speeds that would put his MCL at risk for re-injury.  The MCL’s primary function is to stop the knee from caving to the inside (toward your other leg); and Ben suffered his injury to his left leg which is his plant leg during throws.  This may seem like it would be significant and depending on his launch point and how he sets up for a throw the forces may vary; but generally speaking the MCL is not stressed during the throwing process as most of the force is going forward and put on sturdy muscles like the quads and the glutes.  His biggest risk would be getting hit in the knee again which would likely aggravate his pain, but not likely to aggravate the actual structural integrity of the ligament unless he was hit just right for a second time (see image below for the force that puts MCL at most risk).  For the limited mobility that Ben needs, I would definitely be bracing that knee to protect and support the MCL and simply live with having Ben at 80-90% rather than Michael “I still can’t make a 3, 5, or 7 step drop and pass” Vick or Landry Jones.

Well if my initial prediction was right, Ben Roethlisberger will be on the field this Sunday to face the Chiefs.  Obviously there are other factors to consider like the fact that although the Chiefs are losing, they have one of the best pass rushing defenses in the league which may not be the ideal return spot for Roethlisberger as the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals are up next week.

In the end remember that this is generally a 3 week injury for most NFL players and regardless of whether the politics and planning puts Ben in or out of the game, I am pretty sure he could play this week.  You can use some of this same rationale with Marcus Mariota (SEP Reliability Rating – 93) and Antonio Gates (SEP Reliability Rating – 73) who also suffered recent MCL sprains, however keep in mind that Gates must do a bunch more cutting based on position and Mariota is more mobility dependent at this stage of his career as compared to Ben Roethlisberger so the assessment would need to be tweaked a little for both.  I don’t believe a grade for either of their sprains has been publicized, but we can assume a grade 1 or 2 as a grade 3 is a full tear and would be announced as significant time would be missed.

So for those out there waiting to make your weekly fantasy line ups, I say save room for Antonio Brown as he is definitely in play if Big Ben hits the field and fire up Ladarius Green because even if Antonio Gates  plays he will not be himself with less than a week to heal.  As for Zach Mettenberger.……no comment.