Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers parted with Antonio Brown this offseason by trading him to the Oakland Raiders, the team finds itself holding a competitive contest in Latrobe at the wide receiver position, including the notable additions of Donte Moncrief, a free agent signing, and Diontae Johnson, a third-round draft choice.
The team already retained four wide receivers from last season in JuJu Smith-Schuster, second-round pick James Washington, Eli Rogers, and Ryan Switzer, so many have been penciling them in for carrying six at the position, which, in fairness, has become their norm. Smith-Schuster, Moncrief, Johnson, and Washington figure to be locks, or as close to locks as possible.
The others, however, will have to earn their roster spot again, and in a group that also will include Diontae Spencer, Tevin Jones, Trey Griffey, Johnny Holton, and others. Those who have been on the roster remain confident that they will be there once again.
Switzer did admit to reporters yesterday at the outset of training camp that he was “excited to get going” but also has “a lot of nerves as well”. He noted that he has high expectations for himself while pointing out that, among returning receivers, he has the second-most receptions and yards a year ago.
Assuming that he does make the roster, he hopes to have a bigger impact than he had in 2018, when he was acquired via trade in late August and had to slowly play into a role as the season developed. He caught 36 passes for 253 yards and one touchdown.
Not only will he have had an entire offseason to digest the offense, he also knows that Brown’s absence will provide more opportunities for everybody as a result. “170 targets have been vacated from last year”, he said, and “I don’t see us throwing the ball any less”.
Those numbers aren’t quite right, but not far off, either. Brown was targeted 168 times last year, among the very highest in the NFL, and surely would have cleared 170 if he played in the season finale. He has had over 150 targets every year since 2013.
That said, it’s also hard to see the Steelers throwing as much as they did last year, setting a new franchise record for pass attempts with nearly 700. 675 came from Ben Roethlisberger, leading the NFL. He only cleared 600 attempts once before in his career when he threw 608 passes in 2014.
If Switzer does make the team, he may find it difficult to find playing time, depending on how the depth chart shakes out. If the Steelers play a lot of four- and five-receiver sets, however, it would be a great aid for himself to get opportunities.