Antonio Brown had been a mainstay of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense for the past eight years, which included six straight trips to the Pro Bowl, even if he was snubbed for a sixth consecutive All-Pro recognition for the 2018 season despite leading the league with 15 receiving touchdowns.
Of course we know why that all is, why he’s gone, and who the Steelers’ new number one receiver is: JuJu Smith-Schuster. The third-year player recently jumped on Adam Schefter’s podcast to talk about, frankly, mostly a lot of nonsense about video games and his dog’s network and appearances, but also some talk about football as well.
When Schefter asked him about how the team was going to replace the talent of Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell, he said, “you’ve got James Conner, who’s been dominating ever since he took over that role, and for myself, those other 100 catches that Antonio had, those yards, they’ll get spread out”.
“When I’m getting double-teamed, I know that my guys are going to step up and make those plays”, he went on to say, though he didn’t yet name names until he was pressed. “I’m not doubting none of my teammates, and I just know we’re going to make our plays”.
The player that he ended up singling out for attention was second-year wide receiver James Washington, who was a second-round pick a year ago but, as Smith-Schuster put it, “kind of started off slow but figured it out”.
“We know that Donte Moncrief, he can play. He’s been in the league for about six years, so obviously he’s a guy that people are talking about”, Smith-Schuster said “But if you’re talking about a guy, a young dude who’s upcoming, it’s gonna be James Washington”.
Washington had just 16 receptions for 217 yards and one touchdown during his rookie season, and that lone score came back in Week Two on what was a busted play. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger barely even managed to stay onside. But he was able to make some plays in the final weeks of the season, recording six receptions for 129 yards in the last three games, including the first two explosive plays of his career, capped off by a 47-yarder in the finale.
“This past summer workouts that we had, he’s been doing amazing”, Smith-Schuster said of Washington, who may be his number two this year. “He’s doing a great job, and I’m super excited to see how he does this year. He’s our guy that’s gonna sneak up on everybody”.
Somebody will have to, or else it will take a group effort. Smith-Schuster will be his usual self, but some combination of Moncrief, Washington, rookie Diontae Johnson, and whoever else makes the team needs to find ways to replace the production and big plays that Brown is taking with him to Oakland.