I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: The Steelers’ top three wide receivers in 2018 will be their best (during that particular season) in several years.
You have Antonio Brown continuing to perform at an elite level, the personification of consistency. He doesn’t even need to play 16 games to put up 100 receptions and well over 1000 yards annually. Add a year of maturity from JuJu Smith-Schuster and what is likely to be a more consistent performer in rookie James Washington, and yes, this group on paper should be the best group they’ve had in several years.
The most recent competition, I suppose, would be the 2013 season. They had three receivers that year gain at least 600 yards with at least six touchdowns, averaging eight touchdowns between them and totaling almost 2800 yards.
This group is certainly capable of matching and exceeding that. Brown himself figures to contribute around 1300-1500 yards and 10-12 touchdowns on his own, while Smith-Schuster very realistically could have a 1000-10 season. Washington’s readiness, physicality, and combat-catch ability sets him up to succeed early as well.
No matter how good this group can be, that’s still a lot to promise. What Brown alone has done over the past five seasons is unprecedented, and perhaps we shouldn’t be taking for granted that he will continue to perform at the same level year-in and year-out.
And then you’re talking about two very young players. Smith-Schuster had over 900 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, but there’s such a thing called a sophomore slump. He’s 21 years old. Who knows exactly what kind of player he is going to be long-term?
And guaranteeing rookie success is never a safe proposition. Just look at the recent history of wide receivers drafted in the first round and how well they have played as rookies. Amari Cooper is the only one to have had a 1000-yard season as a rookie. Only four of the 13 receivers drafted in the first round since 2015 even have 1000 career yards to date.