JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner: The Future of the Pittsburgh Steelers?

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PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 28: Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) celebrate after a touchdown during the NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 28, 2018 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What will the future hold for the Pittsburgh Steelers? I don’t think anyone expected a time when both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown would be leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers at the same time, especially so soon. With Brown’s recent signing with the Oakland Raiders and rumors that Bell will sign with a new team soon as well, a lot of people are wondering what the Steelers will look like without two of the what are considered some of the best players currently in the NFL. Despite this, the Steelers still have strong weapons on the offensive side of the ball: wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner.

Juju-Smith Schuster: The New No. 1 Receiver

Smith-Schuster will undoubtedly have to fill the shoes of being the No. 1 receiver on the team after the departure of Brown. While this could be a cause for concern, the stats show that Schuster has the potential to fill that No. 1 receiver slot. In 2018, Ben Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster for 109 completions, 1,349 receiving yards, seven touchdowns, and Roethlisberger had a passer rating of 100 when throwing to Smith-Schuster. For comparison, Roethlisberger, connected with Brown on 102 completions for 1,294 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and had a passer rating of 93.5 when passing to Brown.

Now, we can chalk this up to the fact that Brown spends most of his time in double coverage and was still able to put up those numbers. However, the point being made is that Smith-Schuster has the capabilities to be a No. 1 receiver for the Steelers. Pro Football Focus gave Smith-Schuster an overall grade of 81.8, ranking 16th among wide receivers in the last year, who actually ranked higher than Brown, who ranked 26th with an overall grade of 79.3. The uncertainty lies in the fact that fans question whether or not Smith-Schuster can overcome the pressure and the attention by defenses now that he’ll be the primary receiver.

The Steelers still have James Washington, the wide receiver from Oklahoma State that was drafted by the Steelers in the second round of the 2018 draft. Despite an underwhelming season (potentially due to the fact that Roethlisberger was favoriting Smith-Schuster and Brown the whole season), Washington proved his talent during his college career. During his four-year college career, Washington put up 4,472 receiving yards, a 19.8 yards per reception average, and 39 touchdowns.

Can Conner Fill the Shoes Left By Le’Veon Bell?

In terms of the running backs, the Steelers are in a good place with Conner. Conner was one of the more surprising backs to come into the league because with Bell sitting out the 2018 season, no one knew what to expect. Conner ended the year ranking 10th among all players last year in terms of scrimmage yards, amassing 1,470 yards from scrimmage, with 973 rushing yards and 497 receiving yards, and combining for 13 touchdowns on the year, showing that he can be a great dual-threat running back for the Steelers.

Along with the great performance in terms of his stats last year, Conner proved he can be a tough and elusive back. In the 2018 season, Conner tied for fourth in the league in terms of broken tackles with a total of 56.

Last Word

Since the Steelers have such a young receiving core, we may see the Steelers show some interest in some of the free agency wide receivers as opposed to drafting a receiver in the upcoming 2019 draft, with names like Golden Tate, Cole Beasley, and John Brown being on the market this year.

If the Steelers can get back to working together as a team, they should be able to see similar success in the upcoming season with the young stars Smith-Schuster and Conner. However, it won’t be a surprise if the Steelers look to bolster at least one of these positions in free agency.

What do you think is in store for the Steelers in 2019?

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