Antonio Brown is no longer a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so how does the wide receiver group stack up now?
In the waning days of the 2018 NFL season, when Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown sat out the final game of the season, it started to become clear that the team viewed him as a distraction – a problem. Now? He’s gone, shipped off to the Oakland Raiders for 2019 third-round and fifth-round picks.
His absence causes a huge problem for General Manager Kevin Colbert and company: who will be catching passes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this season?
We already know the partial answer to this question. JuJu Smith-Schuster enjoyed a strong second season, breaking out to the tune of 111 receptions, 1,426 yards, along with seven touchdowns. At this point, it seems a foregone conclusion that he’ll be taking on Brown’s top role in terms of volume, but given his production, it would be in the Steelers’ best interests to keep Smith-Schuster in the slot, and find someone else to take over that ‘X-receiver’ role to keep the pressure off.
Last year’s second-round pick, James Washington, one of only a couple other receivers on the roster, is the primary candidate to get increased looks and touches. Despite an underwhelming rookie campaign – he caught only 16 of 38 targets for 217 yards and a touchdown in 2018 — Colbert clearly feels that Washington still has the potential to be a great NFL player.
“He had the big drop at Denver where he probably should have just run through the ball and he probably would’ve scored, but his confidence after that game grew to where he was a contributor down the stretch,” said Colbert, at the NFL Combine earlier this offseason. “It’s not uncommon for rookie players to go through that but we had no question about James Washington’s ability to catch the football and now he is starting to show that.”
The Steelers are going to do their best to incorporate Ryan Switzer and newcomer Donte Moncrief, but if there’s one thing the Steelers and their scouting department have done extremely well over the last 15 years, it is drafting productive wide receivers. Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, and Emmanuel Sanders all come to mind as recent Pittsburgh draft picks who have enjoyed success in the NFL.
Assuming top prospect D.K. Metcalf is taken early on, look for the Steelers to have some interest in Iowa State product Hakeem Butler. Standing at 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds, the former Cyclone racked up 60 receptions, 1,318 yards, nine touchdowns in his junior season – he would be a matchup problem for most cornerbacks, and would be a great target on the outside to pair with Smith-Schuster.
Armed with four picks in the first three rounds, including the 20th-overall pick, it’s a safe bet that Colbert adds to the receiver group when the 2019 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, April 25.