Justin Brown was a sixth-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers, a somewhat forgotten, unheralded second fiddle to a more promising receiver that the team also added that year in the third round of the NFL Draft.
So was Antonio Brown.
But unlike Antonio, Justin didn’t make it onto the 53-man roster on his first try. Justin spent his rookie season on the practice squad, while Antonio returned his first touch for a kick return touchdown, and helped polish off a 14-point comeback in the playoffs.
Also unlike Antonio, though, Justin has received significant attention in his second year during offseason workouts, including some work with the first-team offense when his former draft classmate, Markus Wheaton, sat out some drills.
Now, does that mean that Justin will slowly emerge as a starter by the end of his second season and rack up over 1000 yards, as Antonio did?
Of course not. Brown is battling right now at best to be the fourth option at wide receiver, noting that rookie Martavis Bryant would make the roster even if the Steelers chose to play Brown ahead of him due to experience.
But there’s no mistaking the added attention that Brown is receiving this offseason, due to the fact that he is meriting that attention with his play, of course.
As his production trailed off last summer, he ended up losing his roster battle to Derek Moye. So he’s grateful for the opportunity to work with the ones earlier this offseason.
“It is definitely good getting some reps with the ones”, he said. “When my number is called, I’m just trying make sure that I’m ready and I know what I’m doing. I’ve noticed [the attention], and it’s definitely encouraging”.
With all the attention that he’s been getting, from both coaches and the media—present company included—however, it may be difficult to forget that he’s realistically competing for a minor role that might see him inactive on game days.
Of course, it’s certainly not unrealistic for a former sixth-round pick to eventually break out and crack the starting lineup, even earn a nod on the All-Pro team. After all, he has a shining example in his own locker room, with the same name on the back of his jersey.
But Justin Brown understands that the first step in that journey is to crack the 53-man roster. The fact that he’s already on his second attempt has not been lost on him; he understands how much it will take to reach his goal, even if he knows he’s not there yet.
“I have been trying to better my game”, he said. “I’m trying to go hard every day and show the coaches that I have been working hard. But as I said, I still have a ways to go”.
That way may have to take him past his rival Moye, as well as a veteran free agent pickup in Darrius Heyward-Bey, but he has at least one significant cheerleader in his corner.
“Justin is doing some great things”, his quarterback said of him. “I just like that he keeps working to get better and every day you see improvement from him”. It will be important for Brown to continue to be on that upward trajectory once the preseason starts.