Justin Brown Hoping To Avoid Leveling Off Again This Preseason

Not much is typically expected of sixth-round picks when it comes to the modern era of the NFL Draft, though the Pittsburgh Steelers have their fair share of exceptions.

Vince Williams last season, for example, came on and helped stabilize the defense after losing Larry Foote, playing competently to help the Steelers finish on a 6-2 run. They, in fact, were 8-5 after he entered the lineup.

The most obvious, though, is of course Antonio Brown, who in just four years has become an All-Pro-caliber wide receiver. He was the second of two receivers drafted in his draft year, the other coming in the third round, so he seemed  an afterthought at first—until he returned the opening kickoff of the season opener 89 yards for a touchdown.

Justin Brown is the latest sixth-round wide receiver, but unlike Brown, he spent his rookie season on the practice squad despite showing glimpses of potential early in his first summer as a professional football player. The problem is that he quite simply trailed off over the course of the offseason. As Bob Labriola explains:

The thing that happened to Justin Brown last year was he looked good early, went to training camp and showed some things early as well, but what happens often with rookies in those situations is they hit a plateau, and that’s what happened to Justin Brown. He hit a plateau, did not continue to improve through the second part of the preseason, and just didn’t have enough to stick on the final 53-man roster.

Brown is off to another good start this offseason. I wrote recently about many Steelers scribes such as Dale Lolley and Jim Wexell giving him his due as potentially the fifth wide receiver. Mike Prisuta recently said that “you realize what the Steelers think they may have in him, or what kind of potential upside he may have”.

As he enters his second training camp and preseason, he cannot afford to level off again, which is what happened to him a year ago.

He got off to a fine start during his last preseason, where he caught four passes—including two difficult grabs—for 32 yards, but he struggled as the preseason progressed, especially after the Steelers headed back to the South Side.

In the final two preseason games, he was targeted three times and caught one pass for seven yards. He also slipped on a route that resulted in an interception. In all, he caught six passes on 13 targets for 44 yards, or just 7.3 yards per reception.

He also committed a special teams penalty in the first game and was removed from special teams duty for the remainder of the preseason. Special teams will be critical for him this season, so he must make sure to be on the details and stay on the field this time around.

Most of all, however, he must work to stay focused once the Steelers break from training camp, and to continue to be a player on the rise from that point on. That is the point at which he started to plateau last season, as Labriola put it, and it cost him a roster spot as Derek Moye took advantage of his evident loss of focus. Brown intends to reverse those roles this year.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Biophys

    One of the best things that can happen to JB (other than ST) is for MB to develop quickly. The team could keep DHB for his ability to stretch the field as a tall receiver. Or they could keep DM for his jump ball abilities in the RZ. But if MB develops, he could fill both of those roles and make DHB and DM unessential.

    Hopefully JB has added some muscle and improved his route running over the past year.

  • joed32

    I need to brush up am my alphabet. Just kidding but it took me a moment to figure out who was who.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Going to be a pretty good camp battle for that last WR spot. Moye may have beat out J Brown on a tackle in preseason where he ran down the defender after an interception. IMO JB is going to have to make some splash plays in preseason with his special teams play being crucial as the article stated.

  • Back-up QB play [and porous pass-blocking] can impact WRs trying to make the 53 through the scarcity of opportunities in preseason games. In years past, I’ve noticed how some receivers who might have accrued impressive preseason stats were victimized by off-target throws or QB sacks when the receiver was open. It’s a tough profession to break into if you’re on the bubble! Unless someone from the WR mid-pack really stands out in camp, you’d have to assume that preseason game performance will again be the determining factor.

  • Milliken Steeler

    He isnt going to level off. His competition last year was Moye who had a year on the practice squad and Justin still had an edge until the last two weeks of the pres season.

    He has special teams experience in college, he runs good routes and has very good hands. Now, he has a year in the system and I think he will over take Moye. Moye doesnt have Browns muscle mass or run as good of a route. Moye has speed on him but his lack of muscle and other attributes are what I think gets him beat this year and off the 53.

  • IckyD

    This is true; i guess the teams figure that the WRs who manage to excel under those limited opportunities are most likely to perform under more consistent and potential-laden circumstances.

    I agree, though- teams might be cheating themselves by never allowing these lower picks a chance to work with the first-string level talent.

    You’d think Ben might take at least one afternoon or morning and throw exclusively to the lower-round picks and UFAs just to see if there are any he clicks well with. I know that might seem below” a QB of his talent but why risk missing a possible second Antonio Brown?

  • Jonas

    Well, one would think the coaches don’t look purely at the stats but see whether the throw is off-target or when a receiver (that doesn’t get a target) has a release etc.
    I don’t think this effects the evaluation of talent in the Steelers organisation!

  • IckyD

    I can’t help but feel like Moye is being overlooked; with his size and hands he is being wasted by this offensive staff. Anywhere else in the league he’d be a starter imho. He runs sharp routes, has great size, good hands and actually fights for the catch.

    I just don’t see why he is being pushed aside..but there must be a lot i don’t know…

  • steeltown

    It’s all about special teams, if he fails to excel in that area or has issues with penalties then he could be spending another year on the PS

  • steeltown

    They did that in the offseason, with Wheaton, Moye and J.Brown. Also, Wheaton missed a day of OTAs last week and they had J.Brown running with the first team, he apparently looked good and Ben said he can play in 3 different spots