The Pittsburgh Steelers return to St. Vincent College in Latrobe for 2019 Training Camp this week. This iteration of Steelers Training Camp figures to have a vastly different vibe than previous years as player “distractions” (like flying in on a helicopter or guys having their own bed & breakfast place) should be kept to a minimum. No position group will manifest this change greater than the wide receivers. Gone is Antonio Brown and all the distractions that came with him throwing coolers and skipping games and bleaching his mustache. Throughout the offseason, JuJu Smith-Schuster has stuck to the company line of downplaying individual accomplishments and stating his desires for team victories above all else.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (3rd year), James Washington (2nd year), Ryan Switzer (3rd year), Eli Rogers (5th year), Trey Griffey (1st year), Tevin Jones (1st year)
With Antonio Brown gone, JuJu Smith-Schuster is now the unquestioned top receiver on the team. JuJu led the team in receptions and yards last year with 111 catches for 1426 yards. Given the relative lack of a proven supporting cast, it is not out of the question to think that JuJu could make a run at Antonio Brown’s team single-season records of 136 receptions and 1834 yards. James Washington was a second-round pick out of Oklahoma State who had an inconsistent rookie campaign that saw him scratched from the lineup twice and put up just 16 catches for 217 yards and 1 TD. Washington should see an increase in playing time this year, along with an uptick in targets. The opportunities will be there, he just needs to capitalize. Ryan Switzer was acquired by trade and played as both the primary slot receiver and kick returner. Switzer did have offseason surgery for a nagging injury and should be back to full strength this year. Eli Rogers spent much of the year on the PUP list recovering from a knee injury but came back and put up 12 catches in the last 3 games, including 7 in the season finale against Cincinnati. Trey Griffey (son of the great Ken Griffey, Jr) and Tevin Jones were both in camp with the team last year and spent 2018 on the practice squad. Both are big targets at 6’3″ and played well last preseason.
Donte Moncrief (6th year), Diontae Johnson (3rd round pick), Diontae Spencer (1st year), Johnny Holton (3rd year)
The Steelers did make two notable moves to bring in players from the outside this offseason. In free agency they signed former Colts and Jaguars WR Donte Moncrief. After suffering through a season of Blake Bortles (and still managing 48 catches for 668 yards and 3 TDs), playing with Ben Roethlisberger will seem like night and day. All reports out of OTAs were positive on Moncrief and he will be in position to battle for a starting spot. The Steelers used a 3rd round pick to select Diontae Johnson from Toledo. Johnson had a lot of measurables similar to Antonio Brown (5’10”, 183 pounds, 4.53 40-yard dash). Johnson’s tape shows a lot of short-area quickness, the ability to get in and out of breaks quickly, and the ability to make defenders miss in space. Check out our post-draft profile on Johnson. Diontae Spencer spent the last 4 years in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Redblacks. He was a wide receiver and return specialist who we profiled earlier this year. Johnny Holton has spent time on the practice squads in Oakland and Philadelphia and played in a few games for the Raiders.
In the past few years, the Steelers have kept 6 wide receivers on the roster out of training camp. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the clear #1 receiver on this team and will set the tone for the group. JuJu entered the league as one of the youngest players in the draft and will be forced into a leadership role in just his third season. James Washington and Donte Moncrief should compete for the second starting spot and may split time during the season. The real test will be who is better able to pick up the no huddle offense and earns Ben’s trust to be on the field during crunch time. In the slot, Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers bring a similar skill set of small receivers that are able to go across the middle and are capable in the return game. With the drafting of Diontae Johnson (who is nearly a lock to make the team), it is hard to say if there will be enough roster spots for both Switzer and Rogers, though both have proven they can be contributors to the offense. It is very possible that those 6 players are the wide receivers that see their names on the 53-man roster heading to New England in Week 1. Trey Griffey and Tevin Jones are both big targets but will need to do something incredibly impressive on almost a Nate Washington scale to get a shot at the active roster. Diontae Spencer’s best bet to make the team is likely to supplant either Switzer or Rogers in the return game and prove his worth on special teams.