News broke late Saturday night into early Sunday morning that the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders had agreed in principle to a trade to send wide receiver Antonio Brown out west in exchange for Oakland’s third- and fifth-round draft picks.
The deal had to be made, but it inevitably leaves a major hole in the starting lineup at the number one wide receiver position—which number two wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is gearing himself up to fill on his own, coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2018 in which he put up some of the best numbers in franchise history by any player other than Brown at wide receiver.
It wasn’t long, surely, before Smith-Schuster heard the news of his friend, colleague, and part-time mentor/instructor, being traded, which he knew must be coming. By noon, he took to social media, in which he posted an image of himself in one of the most memorable moments of his young career, maybe even more fitting than he realized.
It’s an image of him hauling in an impressive toe-tapping, juggling touchdown at the back of the end zone out in Oakland from earlier this season. In the background is Brown visible, looking on somewhat impassively. We know from other reports that Brown was initially upset on this play because he wanted the ball.
Now JuJu’s getting it. “I’m Ready…”, he wrote. And it’s a sentiment that isn’t new to him.
I’m Ready… pic.twitter.com/K9EZVna0VV
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) March 10, 2019
While he was in Orlando to participate in the Pro Bowl, there were already reports about Brown wanting to be traded, so he had to field questions about that possibility and what it would be like to be the top target in the offense.
From the end of January, he was asked the same question during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. “I think as kid growing up, I always wanted to be the number one guy”, he said. “Now I have the opportunity to be the number one guy—if it does come, obviously I prefer AB stay on the team and be on the other side. You think about the numbers that we put up, both over 100 catches, over 1000 yards, first time to do it in Steelers franchise [history], I think it’s unbelievable. But like you said, if the opportunity should arise, I’m definitely going to embrace it and take that role”.
Smith-Schuster caught 111 passes for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns in his second season. He has 169 receptions for 2343 yards and 14 touchdown in his first two years, having had to work his way into the starting lineup as a rookie.
Now, at the age of 22, he is going to get the chance to be the guy on a prospective Super Bowl contender. And he wants you to know that he’s ready for it. He’s hungry for it. Now that it’s coming, with the Antonio Brown question answered, he can singularly set his sights on that.