The Pittsburgh Steelers traded away wide receiver Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders just after the start of the 2019 league year in March and now it will be interesting to see if the other wide receivers on the team are able to collectively fill the big shoes that were left behind. During his recent one-on-one interview with Bob Pompeani of KDKA-TV, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talked briefly about how big of an offseason loss Brown will be to the team’s offense in 2019 and hard it will be to replace his overall production.
“You can’t just say, ‘hey, who’s going to fill his shoes and be AB?’ Because those are shoes that you can’t fill because of the production and what he brought to the table,” Roethlisberger told Pompeani. “And even if he had a game where maybe it was two or three catches and 25 yards, the attention that he attracts, that’s the ultimate respect, right?”
Like it or not, Steelers third-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster must now become the team’s new No. 1 with Brown no longer in Pittsburgh. That means he’ll be expected to continue to put up the same kind of stats that he did in 2018 and do so despite garnering most of the attention from opposing defenses moving forward.
“Now, he’s got another challenge ahead of him, not just by defenders and his reputation of being good football player, but by trying to fill shoes and be a No. 1,” Roethlisberger said when asked if he thinks Smith-Schuster can take over the role as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver moving forward. “And I’ve talked to him a lot, I’ve been around him a lot this offseason and I think he’s up for the challenge and he’s excited and he’s working his butt off to be that guy.”
After trading away Brown to the Raiders the Steelers immediately signed veteran wide receiver Donte Moncrief and he’ll likely open the 2019 regular season as the X receiver, the position Brown predominately played. Smith-Schuster, on the other hand, will more than likely continue playing the slot position when three wide receiver sets are used and outside opposite Moncrief when only two wide receiver packages are used.
In addition to needing Moncrief to help absorb some of the production that was lost when Brown was traded away, second-year wide receiver James Washington will be expected to have a big increase in production from his rookie season. Washington is likely going to be asked to play the Z position in three wide receiver packages in 2019 just as he was asked to do on a limited basis during his rookie season, which ended with him registering just 16 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown.
After spending consecutive second-round draft picks on Smith-Schuster and Washington the last two years, the Steelers selected another wide receiver in the third-round this year in the form of Diontae Johnson out of Toledo. Johnson will hopefully contribute more in 2019 than Washington did during his rookie season and potentially even overtake Moncrief on the depth chart during the second half of the regular season.
Rounding out the Steelers wide receiver depth chart in 2019 figures to be either Ryan Switzer or Eli Rogers, or perhaps even both. Switzer and Rogers, however, are both best-suited to play predominately in the slot. Additionally, tight end Vance McDonald and the Steelers two carryover running backs from last season, James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, should all be able to help out considerably in the Steelers passing game in 2019. By the way, those three players combined to catch 131 passes in 2018 for 1,306 yards and 8 touchdowns. Brown, on the other hand, finished 2018 with 104 receptions for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns in 15 games played.