Arguably the NFL's best team at drafting and developing wide receivers just lost inarguably 2017's best wideout for the remainder of the regular season.
Antonio Brown's torn calf is unfortunate for everyone — from the Steelers to Brown owners to general NFL fans sick and tired of many of the most exciting players in the game being lost to injuries.
But there may not be another team better built to withstand losing its best skill playmaker than the Steelers. We saw, for instance, what happened to the Patriots and Cowboys without Rob Gronkowski and Ezekiel Elliott, respectively.
New England failed to convert a single third down in a noncompetitive loss sans a suspended Gronk two weeks ago, and the only time the Patriots were held below 20 points this season was Week 4, their only other game without the best tight end ever.
Dallas scratched and clawed to a 3-3 mark without Zeke, but his absence highlighted how invaluable he is to making the Cowboys go. They were pummeled by three postseason contenders to begin Elliott's absence — outscored 92-22 in three straight losses. That the Cowboys eventually learned to play without him to rattle off three straight vs. three down-and-out clubs was
The Steelers, though, have two dangerous sticks of dynamite in addition to Brown in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant, never mind the ability to ring up 30 or so explosions from Le'Veon Bell. And in a date with a Texans secondary ranked 29th vs. fantasy wideouts, Smith-Schuster and Bryant figure to be Ben Roethlisberger's still-lethal go-to receiving weapons as the Steelers close in on a potential first-round bye.
Houston last week was destroyed by Smith-Schuster's rookie peer — Jacksonville's Keelan Cole — who immediately trails the Steelers' second-rounder in yardage among freshman receivers. Bryant's first-ever NFL touchdown came against Texans FS Andre Hal, and though teams have since wised up regarding covering Bryant on the perimeter with a safety, outside corners Jonathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson don't inspire a whole lot more confidence of late.
We normally reserve our bold fantasy predictions for the podcast, which tapes Thursdays, the same day our exploit and avoid column comes out. For now let's just say the Steelers' B-team wideouts will be prominently featured in both items.
1. DeAndre Hopkins, Texans vs. Steelers
2. Keenan Allen, Chargers at Jets
3. Adam Thielen, Vikings at Packers
4. Brandin Cooks, Patriots vs. Bills
5. Michael Thomas, Saints vs. Falcons
6. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs vs. Dolphins
7. Julio Jones, Falcons at Saints
8. Marvin Jones, Lions at Bengals
9. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks at Cowboys
10. Devin Funchess, Panthers vs. Buccaneers
11. A.J. Green, Bengals vs. Lions
12. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers at Texans