Can the Steelers realistically replace Antonio Brown?

Jesse Reed
Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering a new era now that Antonio Brown is on his way out of town. So what do they do next? Is it possible for Pittsburgh to realistically replace the superstar receiver?

That’s what we’re going to examine here.

What Pittsburgh lost: Antonio Brown has been one of the most productive receivers the league has ever seen during his most recent six-year stretch.

  • 2013: 110 catches, 1,499 yards and 8 touchdowns
  • 2014: 129 catches, 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns
  • 2015: 136 catches, 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns
  • 2016: 106 catches, 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns
  • 2017: 101 catches, 1,533 yards and 9 touchdowns
  • 2018: 104 catches, 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns

Folks, that’s insane.

  • 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns per year.

Breaking it down a bit further…

  • 7 catches for 95 yards and 0.69 touchdowns per game.

Still in his prime at the age of 30, this isn’t the case of a team losing a player who is dropping off, or will drop off any time soon.

In-house options: Pittsburgh does have one of the best young receivers in the game, and he should still excel. Yet after JuJu Smith-Schuster there’s a whole bunch of question marks.

  • JuJu Smith-Schuster: 111 catches for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018.
  • James Washington: 16 catches for 271 yards and one touchdown as a rookie in 2018.
  • Not much else, as guys like Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter are all free agents.

Looking at the draft: Pittsburgh has the No. 20 overall pick in Round 1 and could conceivably use that on a receiver.

There’s talent available, but it would be pretty bold to predict any rookie could remotely begin to impact the game the way Brown did for the Steelers.

Still, there are options.

  • Marquise Brown has the type of quickness, route-running and pure speed that could fit well in Pittsburgh.
  • A.J. Brown could be a great fit playing opposite Smith-Schuster. A big, fast, talented pass catcher, he’s got No. 1 potential long term.
  • N’Keal Harry is completely different in that he’s not a burner. However, he has big-time playmaking abilities and could be a huge red-zone threat for Pittsburgh.

There is talent to be had in Round 2 and beyond as well. Guys like J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Deebo Samuel and Parris Campbell are very intriguing.

The bottom line: Pittsburgh has to take the long approach here. The Steelers hope that they experience addition by subtraction, getting rid of a guy who was clearly a bad seed in the locker room.

Yet in no way, shape or form should Steelers fans expect their team to find any semblance of a “replacement” for Brown. Instead, they should brace for a down year offensively. He’s simply too good and gives opposing defenses too many problems to be lost without it hurting.