If you’re like me, when you were watching the 2018 NFL Draft and saw news of the Pittsburgh Steelers sending Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders, you had mixed emotions.
First, you were happy to see the Steelers get something of value for the troubled receiver — but then you wondered who would fill his shoes in the offense this season. Shame on me for questioning Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert when it comes to drafting wide-receiver talent, but I know I wasn’t alone in these concerns.
Even though rookie James Washington has had a tremendous rookie preseason, you have to wonder if he’ll be able to do what Bryant did last year, and in previous years. That was to take defenders’ eyes off of Antonio Brown and take the top off of a defense.
While Washington has shown during training camp and the preseason he’s got the skill to make people say, “Martavis who?” I asked Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders what he thought of the Steelers’ 2018 wide-receiving corps, and he thinks they’ll be even better next season.
I think the receiving corps will actually be better in 2018. Smith-Schuster was better than Bryant in essentially every way in 2017, so that already bodes well. He had taken Bryant’s role as the secondary target by the end of last season, and there’s no reason to expect any issues there in 2018. The question is how quickly Washington can rise to fill the third receiver role.
Our Playmaker Projection had Washington as the ninth-best receiver in this year’s draft, despite his nation-leading receiving yards last season. He has limited experience with a full route tree and he isn’t as smooth a pass-catcher as some receivers. That matters a lot less when defenses have to worry about Brown and JuJu first and foremost. I like Washington a lot better as a WR3 than as a WR2, because the Steelers can just play to Washington’s many strengths, rather than need him to be The Guy in the offense right away. He’ll be a deep threat and stretch the defense, allowing everyone else to work underneath. Last year, Smith-Schuster and Bryant combined for 108 catches and 1,520 yards. I expect Smith-Schuster and Washington to surpass those totals, if everyone stays healthy.
Some solid analysis, and statistics, to back up the belief that Smith-Schuster and Washington will do enough in 2018 to beat the numbers put up by Smith-Schuster and Bryant last season. But what do you think? Do you think the Steelers’ wide receivers will be just fine, or will they miss the man they called “The Alien”?