Since the 2019 NFL Draft, no two players on the Pittsburgh Steelers have been talked about more than Devin Bush, the first-round pick whom they traded up for, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, the third-year wide receiver who is being asked to step into the number one role that for the past half-decade had been occupied by one of the greatest in the game, Antonio Brown.
Smith-Schuster himself made the Pro Bowl last year en route to becoming the youngest player to accomplish many things, including 100 career receptions and 1000 career receiving yards. In all, he caught 111 passes in 2018 for 1426 receiving yards and scored seven touchdowns through the air. Only the latter number was not a significant improvement from his already-strong rookie numbers.
But in talking about Brown, we’re discussing a player who, over the past five seasons, has averaged—averaged—115 receptions for 1529 yards and nearly 12 touchdowns per year.
The Steelers traded Brown to the Oakland Raiders in March after he pretty much made it impossible for them not to without causing major problems, which was reflected in the return compensation that they got for him.
As a result, many want to spend the 2019 season comparing what Smith-Schuster does as the number one receiver with the Steelers to what Brown is going to bring to the Raiders with Derek Carr at quarterback (which also means the Ben Roethlisberger comparisons will be inevitable as well).
Thankfully, not everybody feels that way. When Reggie Wayne, for example, was asked about whether or not it was important for Smith-Schuster to match or beat Brown’s numbers this year on the NFL Network, this was his response:
We just need you to be JuJu Smith-Schuster. That’s why we made you the number one receiver and got rid of one of the best probably in this last decade. Since 2011 no receiver has been more productive than AB. But just be JuJu Smith-Schuster. Go out there, be a leader, do the things you’ve been doing the last couple of seasons. We felt like we made this decision because you’re ready. I remember when I was in my third year in the league, that’s when Tony Dungy met me in the hallway and he said, ‘Reggie, now it’s your time’. So just be yourself. Yeah, it’d be great if you can get 15 touchdowns like AB did. It’s great if you can beat the best receiver since 2011, but we know those things are tough. Just be yourself. It’s not realistic. It’s not going to be something that you’re going to be able to do every single year. Just go out there and be JuJu and we’ll be fine.
As the other commentator said, “there’s only one AB, and on the flip side, there’s only one JuJu”. Smith-Schuster isn’t Brown, but it goes the other way, too. Relative to the comparable periods of their careers, the 22-year-old is certainly ahead of where Brown was after two seasons.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) July 4, 2019