The Steelers can’t count on Antonio Brown to produce at an All-Pro level forever, but Pittsburgh has the talent at wide receiver to survive his decline.
Antonio Brown celebrated his 30th birthday yesterday, but the Steelers wide receiver has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. He’s planning for his post-30 career to go the way of Jerry Rice. The Steelers would love to see that happen, but they aren’t counting on it.
Instead, Pittsburgh’s front office deserves a lot of credit for getting out ahead of their potential issues at wide receiver. Similar to the way they’ve prepared to move on from Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and Le’Veon Bell at running back, the Steelers have already made contingency plans to move on from Brown.
The obvious caveat here is that planning to replace Brown with just one player would be foolish. We’re talking about a receiver who leads the NFL in both catches and receiving yards since his NFL career began. The Steelers would need to get insanely lucky to acquire another player of his caliber in the foreseeable future.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh fans, their franchise isn’t relying on luck. Their succession plan started in the 2017 draft when they spent a second round pick on JuJu Smith-Schuster. The former USC star actually had slightly more yards per catch than Brown last season. He certainly benefits from the attention Brown receives on the opposite side of the field, but he has a chance to develop into a number one option in time. Mike Tomlin and company are counting on him to take over Brown’s role in time.
That, of course, still leaves a hole at the second wide receiver spot. Pittsburgh believes they addressed this need in the most recent draft. The team’s decision to draft Oklahoma State wideout James Washington in the second round caught a lot of people off guard. Assuming all goes according to plan, he should be entering the prime of his career just as Brown’s production starts to fall off.
Don’t be surprised if the Steelers elect to use another high draft pick on a wide receiver next season. The team already knows it has to use multiple players to compensate for the eventual loss of Antonio Brown. One more talented, young receiver should give the team enough options.
Steelers fans should hope Brown continues to play at a high level for a long time, but they can rest easy in the fact that their front office has already made solid moves to keep their receiving core strong for years to come.