In the same off-season, the historic Pittsburgh Steelers lost two generational talents via trade and free agency. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell were both cornerstone pieces for the six-time Super Bowl champs, and they both are arguably the best at their respective positions in the league. The loss of these playmakers has analysts and some fans doubting the Steelers offensive game for the 2019 season. As a Pittsburgh fanatic myself, I did find replacing these Pro-Bowl caliber players a difficult task. Kevin Colbert, the Steelers longtime general manager, over the course of the off-season gave me hope for yet another year potentially having an explosive offense in 2019. His work done through free agency and the draft have been quite impressive. Colbert has surrounded franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with a mix of young, experienced talent. This leads to examining the Steelers offensive assets going forward into new league year.
A Look at the Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Assets Heading Into 2019
First, I want to touch base on how and who will help replace Brown. The 2019 Steelers offensive assets going forward into new league year starts with Juju Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster has cultivated astounding chemistry with the future Hall of Famer Roethlisberger after a mere two full NFL seasons. He finished the 2018 campaign with 1,426 receiving yards which ranked fifth overall in the NFL. Of course, while Juju was racking up yardage each game, his counterpart AB was getting double teamed for a large majority of the 2018-2019 season. So, yes it did come easier for Smith-Schuster with teams’ defenses focused on stopping the Steelers number one wideout last season. With Brown playing for the Raiders now, Juju will be the one facing the adversity. I am not worried due to the production the USC product has shown over his short NFL career thus far and Juju seems up for the challenge. Plus, the Steelers have a variety of different playmakers outside of Juju.
Wide Receiver Number Two Competition
James Washington, who really started to come into his own at the end of his rookie season, could wind up being the number two wide receiver on the Steelers roster. Washington, who reportedly slimmed down this off-season, has been one of the standout players from Pittsburgh’s training camp thus far. Washington has a chance to shine alongside Smith-Schuster if he makes the most of his reps throughout the Steelers 2019 season. He’ll have to show the team his growth during the preseason and the start of the regular season to become the number two receiver the Steelers desperately need.
Another name competing for that number two wide receiver spot will be Donte Moncrief. The veteran was one of the NFL’s most underrated free agency signings and the wide-out I have my eye on. Although Moncrief’s production in Jacksonville was stagnated, I believe with a franchise quarterback in Big Ben he will shine once again as he did in Indianapolis. After all, he was getting balls thrown to him by below-average quarterbacks in the league while in Duval County, Florida. We are talking about a wide-out who actually was very productive on the Colts offense. Of his last eight games with the Colts in 2017, he caught five touchdowns before leaving the following off-season. I could see Moncrief having his best season yet playing alongside Ben. The former Ole Miss Rebel has a real shot of being Pittsburgh’s number two wideout. Moncrief and Washington are definitely the top contenders for a breakout season through my eyes. At this moment, I am putting my money on the experienced Moncrief to have the better season. My bold prediction is he will have double-digit receiving touchdowns in 2019. After all, we have to find someone to replace Big Ben’s favorite red zone target. Regardless of who wins, this competition will be one to watch.
Other Receivers to Contribute in 2019
Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer, and rookie Diontae Johnson are all versatile, explosive slot receivers on the roster that will also contribute to the offense throughout the 2019-2020 season. In the past, each receiver has shown that they can indeed contribute to the offense outside of Johnson. Rogers is coming back off an ACL injury. Some players never return to their past form before the injury so we will see how he responds over the course of the year. If Rogers can get back to how he was before the injury, he could be a huge part of this receiving corp going forward.
Rodgers may be the one who loses reps or even his roster spot due to Switzer’s past season and the impressive rookie in Johnson. Switz became one of Ben’s most reliable receivers down the stretch of the season in 2018. Ryan will be used in different ways too. Just like last year, Switz should also look to specialize as the return man once again.
Finally, Johnson has already received praise from fellow wideout Juju Smith-Schuster after his performance during OTAs. It was reported that the Steelers gave Johnson a first-round grade before drafting the Toledo product in the third round. After studying his tape, I actually find that the Steelers scouting department actually saw a lot of comparisons to Antonio Brown in Johnson’s play which helped contribute to him getting that first-round grade from the organization. Johnson is the receiver I expect to get the majority of the snaps this next season in the slot once he proves himself as a reliable option for Big Ben.
Expect all three of these options to contribute no matter their role. Vance McDonald, another asset who showed flashes of being a dominant offensive threat in the middle of the field this past year, should look for an expanded role with the departure of longtime Steeler Jesse James. There was a stretch during this past season where it seemed like McDonald caught everything thrown his way. Prepare for a possible career year for McDonald. It will not be easy to replace an all-Pro talent such as Brown. But I believe with everyone I mentioned above Pittsburgh can get it done with a much more spread out approach through the air. The Steelers will have to however have a much more balanced offense, starting with running the ball more this year.
Running Back by Committee
Just like Pittsburgh’s wide receiving group, they will likely use the same approach with their running back group and that is by committee. The Steelers, as mentioned before, lost their all-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell in free agency to the Jets. But, the team prepared for the future of their backfield last year with Bell sitting out the whole 2018 season. Now, the Steelers are getting back Pro Bowl running back James Conner, who before going down with injury in the 2018-2019 season, had a chance to lead the league in rushing yards.
While he should expect to get the majority of the workload this next year, the team also has two running backs with tons of potential with Jaylen Samuels and rookie Benny Snell. Conner actually went on the say this past week that he had not “earned anything” and that “No players motivate us. We’re motivated by a trophy (Fowler, ESPN).” While Conner was injured, the Steelers backup running back Samuels proved his value in Week 15 against the New England Patriots. The former NC State was pivotal in the Steelers victory over the Pats. Samuels finished the game against New England with 172 all-purpose yards; expect a role in the offense for Samuels.
Snell is another name on the roster to keep an eye on. He was a workhorse at the University of Kentucky and has a very similar type of running game James Conner has. Snell could also see a good amount of carries going forward into this upcoming year. There is no doubt in my mind the rookie has a bright future in the NFL. These three backs, behind one of the most dominating offensive lines in all of football, could thrive as a running back by committee system. It is the smart move if you want James Conner to survive a full season which he has not done since being drafted by the Steelers two years ago.
We Are All Right
So if you are a Steelers fan, or anyone doubting the Steelers offense going into the 2019-2020 season, I would not write them off just yet. The 2019 Steelers offensive assets going forward into new league year, have all the potential to succeed. I guess we shall see what kind of team they will turn out to be starting September 8 when the Steelers take on the defending Super Bowl champs. All I know is that it has been a while since the Steel Curtain has been underdogs in the division, and it could make them a dangerous team going forward this league year.