JuJu Smith-Schuster expects big things from James Washington in Year 2.
Speaking from London, where he's serving as an ambassador for the NFL Academy, 22-year-old Smith-Schuster joined Adam Schefter on ESPN Radio to discuss the Steelers' future and much more. When Schefter asked him to name a breakout candidate for the 2019 season, Smith-Schuster had a touch of trouble narrowing it down to one, but eventually landed on Washington.
With Antonio Brown getting traded to the Raiders, Smith-Schuster recognizes the opportunity in the Steelers' offense for other players to make up receptions and yardage. That, he says, will be a team effort.
"Those other 100 catches that Antonio had, those yards, those will get spread out to Vance McDonald, James Conner, the other tight ends, Donte Moncrief is with us now, James Washington, so many other guys — we have so many other weapons that those catches, those yards get spread out so much," Smith-Schuster said. "When I'm being double-teamed, I know that my other guys are going to step up and make a play."
Schefter wasn't quite satisfied there, so he re-phrased his question for a second pass. That's when Washington's name took center stage.
"Honestly, right now, we know that Donte Moncrief, he can play," Smith-Schuster said. "He's been in the league for about six years, so obviously he's a guy that people are talking about. But you talk about a guy, a young dude who's upcoming, it's going to be James Washington, a guy from Oklahoma State, won the Biletnikoff, came into the Steelers his rookie year and sort of started off slow but figured it out and got the ropes down. This past workout, this summer workout, he's been doing amazing. He's done a great job. I'm super excited to see how he does this year. He's our guy that's going to sneak up on everybody."
From there, Schefter turned his attention to the overall state of the Steelers, namely their position in the suddenly crowded AFC North. While the Browns have served as the division's pushovers for years, that team is now favored to take the division in 2019. With an offense featuring Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and more, the Browns look lethal for the upcoming campaign.
"Good for them," Smith-Schuster said. "We're just going to focus on ourselves and do what we need to do to handle our business, and when it's our time to see them, we're going to be ready and it's going to be a fun game ... This is [finally] the year there's not a lot of pressure on the Steelers ... Everyone's looking at the Browns this year. I'm super excited to see how they turn out to be. They have so many weapons, how they're going to spread the ball around between their running backs, between their wide receivers and just making their plays, so we'll see how it goes."
In the end — and this will come as a shock — Smith-Schuster is just excited. And happy. And loving life. Football's back, and he's ready to put on a show for the black-and-gold faithful.
"This year's going to be a fun year," he said. "Having [Ben Roethlisberger] coming back and the new guys on our team, we're going to make a lot of noise. We're very quiet, under-the-radar right now, which we like. But when it's time to play, you're going to get the best out of me every game, day in and day out."
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