Considering the fact that he is a free agent whom the Pittsburgh Steelers signed to a contract worth $4.5 million per season, which up until recently would have been among the very highest the team has ever given out to an outside free agent, the talk around Donte Moncrief this offseason has been fairly upbeat, but not as enthusiastic as it could be, or might otherwise have been.
Of course, his signing was precipitated by the loss of Antonio Brown, which never helps, and in the same offseason in which he was signed, they also signed two defensive players to contracts were more in both total value and per-year averages, while most are looking at that side of the ball this offseason most for expected improvement.
The fact that he has had far from a stellar career up to this point is another part of the conversation. He has never topped 64 receptions, 733 receiving yards, or seven touchdowns in a single season in his five-year career, though he has rarely had quality quarterback play to work with.
But pretty much everyone around the team has been excited about him so far, and that has a lot of to with the way he carries himself. While he has also impressed with what he’s done on the field—quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gushed about his range and knowledge of the offense—he has shown himself to be the experienced veteran that he is, despite being just 25.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, the team’s top receiver despite being just 22 and heading into his third season, even deferred to Moncrief, saying during minicamp, “I’m pretty much following in his footsteps, taking what I can and learning the details”.
This is a very young and marginally experienced group of wide receivers right now, which places Moncrief in an interesting position, because he does have that experience, yet he’s also still very much in the prime of his physical capabilities, and while he will embrace the mentor role, he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into it to the point where he’s not seen as a player capable of being a full-time starter.
Though he hasn’t taken the league by storm as of yet, he has regularly reflected a convincing attitude toward his craft and his future that makes you believe that he is capable of performing at a level above what he has achieved.
“It’s finding your weaknesses and working on them”, he previously told Joe Rutter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last month. “Going in and watching film and finding out what you are doing wrong and try to get it right. The timing is better. When you’re in the room and learning, the only thing you can do is get better”.
Moncrief is entering training camp as one of perhaps three options to emerge as the primary number two receiver alongside Smith-Schuster, including second-year James Washington and rookie Diontae Johnson. He’ll help them in any way he can, but he’s also very much determined to keep them on the bench for now, at least in two-receiver sets.