In 2016, the Pittsburgh Steelers experienced life without Martavis Bryant. Suspended for the year, the team struggled to move the ball without a viable threat opposite Antonio Brown. The likes of Cobi Hamilton, Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey were just not enough to force teams to not double, sometimes triple, team Brown on his side of the football field.
Entering this season, with Bryant back in the fold, it looked as if the one-two punch of Brown and Bryant would be back, and hopefully better than ever, but Bryant’s rust certainly threw a wrench into those aforementioned plans, and rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has taken advantage of that and shot up the depth chart.
Fans know how Bryant handled having a rookie see the field more than him just a few weeks ago, but after Bryant’s one game punishment, and the bye week, Smith-Schuster has clearly become the team’s No. 2 receiver behind Brown.
Snap counts the past two games:
Week 10 vs. the Colts
Week 11 vs. the Titans
There have been occasions earlier in the season when Smith-Schuster’s increased playing time could be connected to the team’s efforts in the running game. Smith-Schuster is by far the superior blocker when compared to Bryant, and it would make sense they use him often when they need the edge sealed by a receiver.
However, in the team’s Week 11 win on Thursday Night Football, where they aired the ball out more than they have in the past few games, it was still Smith-Schuster who saw the field more than any receiver not named Brown. In fact, on the team’s opening drive of the Thursday night game, when they came out with a no-huddle look, Bryant never saw the field the entire drive.
I don’t believe Bryant is still being punished for his previous actions; the Steelers just see a better, and more reliable, all-around receiver in Smith-Schuster at this point. It doesn’t mean Bryant no longer adds value to this team, he most certainly does, but when someone asks who the team’s No. 2 wide receiver is, the answer should be JuJu Smith-Schuster, not Martavis Bryant.