By Matthew Marczi
It has been a theme for many years that, aside from the occasional special teams contributions, rookies on the Pittsburgh Steelers, including even first-round draft picks, rarely contribute during their first season. That has been especially true over the years on defense, though less so on offense.
That pattern changed somewhat in 2013 due to a variety of circumstances, both foreseen and unforeseen, as many rookies—even undrafted players—got a good chunk of playing time on both sides of the ball. Therefore, there’s more to go on than usual when speaking about how their rookie seasons went.
Player: Justin Brown
Draft Status: 6th round (186th overall)
If not for the emergence of Derek Moye—his former teammate at Penn State in college—Justin Brown likely would have made the 53-man roster, but instead he spent his rookie season on the practice squad.
Unlike Moye, Brown elected to transfer from Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke, playing his senior season for Oklahoma and becoming a favored target of teammate and draft mate Landry Jones.
Moye won out in the battle for a tall receiver, a competition made easier when Plaxico Burress was lost for the season with an injury, but Brown, at 6’3”, offers plenty of height as well, and also has decent speed for his size.
It seemed that Brown would clearly be the choice to win the fifth receiver spot behind Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, and rookie Markus Wheaton following the first preseason game, during which he caught four of six passes targeted to him for 32 yards against the New York Giants.
After that, however, he caught just two of seven targets—though that was largely due to the quarterbacks throwing him the ball, including Jones, his former college teammate. The balls he was thrown offered very little chance for yards after the catch.
In the preseason finale, however, he slipped on a route that resulted in an interception and near-pick-six, which was only saved thanks to a hustle play by Moye to chase down the defender for the tackle.
Meanwhile, Moye had a very strong preseason, catching 10 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown, adding seven missed tackles to the tune of 67 yards after the catch. Based on pure performance alone, Moye had to be the choice between the two.
That doesn’t mean that that can’t very easily flip-flop this year, but that will depend on how they perform. Because neither are notable special teams contributors, it’s unlikely that both would make the roster.
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers 2013 Draft Class Review – LB Jarvis Jones
Steelers 2013 Draft Class Review – RB Le'Veon Bell
Steelers 2013 Draft Class Review – WR Markus Wheaton
Steelers 2013 Draft Class Review – S Shamarko Thomas
Steelers 2013 Draft Class Review – QB Landry Jones
Steelers 2013 Draft Class Review – CB Terry Hawthorne