There's more than one "Brown" in the Steelers' wide receivers' group fans should pay attention to in 2014.
Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider are both raving about second-year WR Justin Brown's performance so far at OTA's, and they believe there's a realistic chance that he could beat out Darrius Heyward-Bey for the final active roster spot at WR.
The Steelers signed Heyward-Bey this past offseason to a one-year contract worth $795,000, with $65,000 guaranteed. Brown is currently under contract through this season at a base salary of $420,000.
It's far too early to actually tell if Brown can, or will beat out Heyward-Bey, but if the battle for the spot is close during training camp, to me it's a no-brainer to roll with Brown over DHB for several reasons.
First, I don't think it would be very tough for even an average receiver to beat out Heyward-Bey in the hands department. He keeps finding his way onto rosters because of his size and blazing speed, but nobody has ever accused him of having great hands. It's very plausible that Brown is already superior in this facet.
Then there's age. While Heyward-Bey isn't exactly old at 27, Brown is only 23. Again, if the battle is close, why not go with the younger receiver who is already getting paid less money? Plus, if Brown makes the roster and happens to play well on special teams and in spot duty, he will be a relatively cheap signing if the Steelers want to consider a long-term contract.
Brown is also taller than Heyward-Bey at 6-foot-3, which instantly gives Ben Roethlisberger another big target.
Heyward-Bey was signed to try to help fill the void left by the departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, while being a serviceable veteran presence. But there's a reason he's never gained 1,000 yards receiving in a season and has already been on two teams. He simply isn't that good.
Right now this is all speculation, as we don't know how either guy is going to perform come training camp. DHB could come in, surprise everyone, and easily lock up his roster spot. Or Justin Brown could come in, surprise everyone, make it close, and leave head coach Mike Tomlin with a tough decision to make.
It's on Brown to keep working and force his coach to make that type of decision. This will be an interesting development to keep an eye on when the Steelers head to Latrobe for training camp in July.
If you had to choose between the two, what guy would you take?