The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver room will be undergoing a dynamic shift this offseason as the team looks to fill in the massive gap left in the wake of the departure of Antonio Brown, the perennial Pro Bowler who was traded to the Oakland Raiders after he forced the Steelers’ hand to move him.
Necessarily, the eyes are now on JuJu Smith-Schuster, the second-year player who was a Pro Bowler in his own right last season, as he looks to prove that he is fully capable of being the team’s number one target.
That was one of the topics that Ryan Switzer discussed during a recent appearance on Speak For Yourself. Asked he if felt that Smith-Schuster was capable of shouldering the extra load Brown is leaving behind, he said, “I feel like JuJu already has. I don’t know how much more of a load JuJu can shoulder”.
The question was then clarified to refer to the reality that he has rarely had to play without Brown on the field together, but Switzer was prepared for that answer, essentially saying that that part is not on Smith-Schuster, but rather the rest of the group.
“I think guys in the locker room, I know myself, have personally accepted that challenge, because as bad as it hurts to lose a player the caliber of AB, obviously a Hall of Fame receiver, as a competitor, I’m ready”, he said. “Opportunity. This league is all about opportunity to fit. And I know I’m jumping on that. I know guys like James Washington, I know we brought in [Donte] Moncrief from Jacksonville. I know we’re chomping at the bits to get going”.
When I said JuJu kind of already has, you know”, he continued, “him being third or fourth in the league in targets last year, I don’t know how many more targets he can get. So that’s what I mean when I say I don’t know how much more he can shoulder because he’s consistently done it in his first two years, so I think it’s on the other guys, me, James, Moncrief, Eli [Rogers], it’s on us to pick up that slack”.
Smith-Schuster caught 111 of 166 targets last season for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns. He ranked tied for sixth in the NFL in receptions in 2018 and was fifth in receiving yards, finishing ahead of Brown in both of those categories. Brown was outside of the top 10 in yardage, though he was limited to 15 games for reasons you well know.
Outside of Brown and Smith-Schuster, however, there is plenty of slack to pick up at wide receiver. Switzer was the third-leading receiver with 36 receptions for 253 yards and a touchdown. Washington caught 16 passes for 217 yards and one touchdown while Rogers in three games caught 12 passes for 79 yards. Justin Hunter and Darrius Heyward-Bey added four receptions between them for 30 yards.