The first move that the Pittsburgh Steelers made to address the post-Antonio Brown offense was signing sixth-year veteran free agent wide receiver Donte Moncrief. A former third-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, he spent last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but in Pittsburgh he will finally work with another starting-caliber quarterback for the first time since his early years with Andrew Luck before the injuries.
While he has had some productivity in his career, he knows that he hasn’t quite lived up to the billing, nor his own standards, and the two-year, $9 million contract that he signed with the Steelers represented a step down in compensation that reflects that reality.
“I know this is a huge year for me”, he told Jeremy Fowler recently during OTAs. “New team, everybody looking for me to make big plays. I have to be ready”.
While he is not the only option opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster—a 2018 Pro Bowler—Moncrief is the only one among that group that has meaningful NFL experience. The other two primary contenders are James Washington, a second-year wide receiver with minimal production, and Diontae Johnson, who was just drafted with the 66th-overall pick in April.
And he likes what he has seen from those guys and others as he enters arguably the most talented wide receiver room in which he has worked since he entered the league. In fact, he had a good feeling about the entire team, saying that “there’s a lot of great leadership”, and “you can tell this is a good locker room”.
Though he very much wants to be a part of that ‘good locker room’, he does not want to fall into that ‘veteran mentor’ role that Darrius Heyward-Bey seamlessly adopted. He sparsely contributed on offense—and often when he did, it was to be a blocker—but he had a big presence as a leader with his group of guys.
He wants to “work hard in front of the receivers and show the guys that I’m not just here to just talk, I’m here to play”, in his own words. Which seemingly fits into the rest of the group. He also told Fowler that “everybody’s pushing each other”, and that when a player drops a pass, they have to ‘drop’ and do 10 push-ups as a consequence. According to Pro Football Focus, Moncrief has averaged between two to four drops in his career per season, neither great nor terrible.
“Everybody’s trying to bring energy”, he said of the group. “I feel like everybody’ going to be able to help. Everyone’s ready to play. Everybody knows JuJu is going to get a lot of attention. We have to be able to help him out, take some double-teams away and beat man so the defense has to cover everybody”.