In about five hours from now, assuming nothing has gone horribly awry between the time that I began writing this article and the time that it is schedule to run, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ ‘Killer Bs’ era of offensive football will officially come to an end, with only the queen bee, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, remaining in the hive.
The Steelers have agreed in principle to trade wide receiver Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for third- and fifth-round draft picks, ending a stellar run of nine very productive seasons, during which Brown became the fastest player to reach 800 receptions and the second-fastest behind Calvin Johnson to 11,000 receiving yards.
Last night, running back Le’Veon Bell was reported to have agreed in principle to sign with the New York Jets on a four-year, $52.5 million contract that could be worth up to a maximum of $61 million if he hits all of the as-yet-unnamed incentives in his deal.
While those two players were the most prolific at their respective positions in Steelers history—and in some cases, in NFL history—both of them felt their time in Pittsburgh had run its course. Fortunately, the team found that they already have additional Pro Bowl-level performers at wide receiver and running back who were waiting in the wings.
It started with 2017 second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster, who emerged over the course of his rookie season before exploding in 2018 among the league leaders in receptions and receiving yards with 111 and 1426, respectively, in addition to seven touchdowns.
2017 third-round selection James Conner started all 13 games for which he was healthy in 2018 after Bell elected not to report under the franchise tag, and he produced nearly 1000 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, with an additional roughly 500 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown.
Both of them were named to the Pro Bowl in 2018 for their performances, the latter outright, the former as a first-alternate, but frankly, deserving all the same. Each individually and together have already proven that they are capable of being high-level performers in the NFL.
But what they must show next is that they can be the difference-makers in an offense that doesn’t have Brown in it, who draws so much attention from defenses. They won’t be the Killer Bs, but Roethlisberger, Conner, and Smith-Schuster have to be the next great triplets of this offense in order for the Steelers to advance with the current makeup of the roster.