Steelers' wide receiver transformation well underway

Is JuJu Smith-Schuster a top 5 fantasy receiver? (1:59)

Matthew Berry, Daniel Dopp and Tristan H. Cockcroft discuss JuJu Smith-Schuster's fantasy outlook this season. (1:59)

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers rookie minicamp will remind how much things will change and stay the same in the wide receiver room.

The top offensive playmaker from the draft class, third-round Toledo receiver Diontae Johnson, will take the practice fields Friday with a profile eerily similar to the man who left town after four All-Pro seasons, Antonio Brown. Both are 5-foot-10 Florida natives from Mid-American Conference schools who offset below-blazing 40 times by playing the game fast. Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake says Johnson gets in and out of breaks "as well as anyone I've seen in a long time."

Brown does that just fine, too. But while rookie camp will feature plenty of defense, Johnson's presence is significant because of what it represents: one cog in a pass-catching offense that must win collectively.

Pro Bowler JuJu Smith-Schuster is the feature receiver who will relish the spotlight of replacing Brown, who in March was traded to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for third- and fifth-round draft picks. He also won't be enough, and the vacancies of Brown and Le'Veon Bell -- who functioned as a No. 2 receiver at times -- dims the offensive star power that used to light up Sundays at Heinz Field.

Asked on draft night about the Steelers' receivers, Johnson recalled two: Smith-Schuster and Ryan Switzer. A successful offense in 2019 must elevate the names of a few more, including former second-round pick James Washington.

Johnson is eager to join the fray by highlighting his strengths, starting this week.

"Winning at the line of scrimmage and catching the ball in traffic," Johnson said. "I can run any route in the route tree ... just being able to adjust on certain coverages and knowing when to stop with counter moves. So that's what I take pride in."

Johnson isn't alone. Many Steelers receivers have been fixtures at offseason workouts. Coach Mike Tomlin's staff expects significant conditioning leaps for second-year players, and Washington is the latest example. He has trimmed down this offseason. The Steelers would like to see him play at around 210 pounds this year, and he should hit that mark.

With a flare for making tough catches. Washington flashed enormous potential in practices and the preseason but struggled with confidence issues as a rookie, finishing with 16 catches for 217 yards.

Free-agent signing Donte Moncrief (6-2) didn't break through in one season in Jacksonville but has adequate speed and size to give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a deep threat with red zone potential. Switzer and slot receiver Eli Rogers also have earned the quarterback's trust. As Johnson will soon find out, and Washington can attest, that takes time for most rookies.

But the Steelers believe they have enough depth to roll out interchangeable parts while letting Smith-Schuster assume leadership and make plays with his excellent feel for reading defenses and getting open.

The offense doesn't have any 4.3 blazers, but it has versatility, and no one will be pigeonholed.

"Our offense is diverse, and we really feel that our guys have to be able to play inside and outside," Drake said. "Normally that package with that dynamic speed, very seldom do you get the total package. Most of these guys who are 4.5 guys, they are the total package. This guy [Johnson] has the ability to be a total-package guy.

"If you can play, you can play."