With the trading away of wide receiver Antonio Brown back in March the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping that the hundred-plus receptions he has regularly provided the team’s offense annually for the last several years can be absorbed by several other members of the unit. In a Tuesday interview on ‘Fantasy Alarm’ on Sirius Radio, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert talked about the upcoming task the team’s offense now faces in 2019 when it comes to absorbing the Brown vacated receptions.
“When you take a hundred-plus catches off your team, I’m pretty sure we’ll have those completions somewhere,” Colbert said. “You know, I don’t think Ben [Roethlisberger] will have a hundred-less completions, but I can’t tell you who it will be or how they’ll be because we’re still learning that. You know, we’ve had really two padded practices and obviously no games yet. So it’s still wide, wide open and even JuJu [Smith-Schuster] has to prove what he can be a minus an Antonio Brown on the other side. So really, number one has a different role and I can’t tell you the rest of the order as they continue to sort it out. But I am confident that someone’s going to catch the balls.”
While Colbert isn’t for certain right now about how the rest of the wide receiver order will ultimately shake out behind new number one wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, the three likely candidates to contribute the most in 2019 are veteran Donte Moncrief and youngsters James Washington and Diontae Johnson. Colbert gave a quick early training camp rundown of those three wide receivers during his Tuesday interview and he started with Washington.
“James struggled early on, quite honestly,” Colbert said of the team’s 2018 second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State. “You know, he dropped some balls. He didn’t have his confidence. It was a huge learning experience coming out. You know, he had a play some different positions than he had played at the college level and most rookies will go through some type of adjustments. As the season wore on, about middle of the season – three quarters of the way through, then he started to find it and started to make some plays. I think his confidence grew and Ben’s confidence in him grew. And when he came in this year, he was about 10 to 15 pounds lighter. You know, he’s a thickly-built kid that wanted to drop some weight so that he could, you know, maybe be just a little step faster, quicker, whatever. But he’s so far so good.”
Next, Colbert talked a little about Johnson, the team’s first of two third-round draft picks this year.
“Diontae’s kind of like James was last year, he’s finding himself early on,” Colbert said of the Toledo product. “You know, he’s a younger player, a junior-eligible coming out, whereas James was a senior. Most times those kids have a little longer learning curve because we’re getting them for their senior year. So, he’ll have to continue to grow physically, but early on, you do see the same type of quickness and quick hands that we saw in college. And I think he’ll be able to contribute and in what form and how much, only time will tell.”
Later during his Tuesday interview, Colbert touched on Moncrief, one the team’s few primary free agent additions during the offseason.
“Donte Moncrief has really hit stride with Ben pretty quickly, which is encouraging,” Colbert said. “You know, Donte’s a talented, young veteran receiver that’s coming in and to see him match up with Ben as quick as they are, I hope that that continues. Because, again, that will make up for those hundred or so catches that we don’t have on our team.”
When you fully parse all of what Colbert had to say about those three wide receivers on the Steelers depth chart behind Smith-Schuster, you should come away thinking that Moncrief is the most-likely candidate to begin the 2019 regular season playing at Brown’s old position, the X. From there, Washington is likely to start the 2019 regular season as the Z and thus likely see the field extensively in three or more wide receiver groupings. As for Johnson, while it’s easy to still be somewhat bullish on his rookie season prospects, barring a serious injury to Moncrief, expect him to be brought along very slowly at the start of 2019. He’ll likely play some beginning in Week 1, but probably won’t log as many snaps early on in his rookie season that several seem to be projecting for him.