I thought that Marc summed up the Steelers’ “conundrum” at the wide receiver position very well a couple weeks ago when he wrote on the issues they face there.
At the time, I agreed they were in a bit of a limbo state there as they have great depth at the position… I’d say very few teams got as much out of their 5th and 6th receiving options (Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers) as the Steelers did in 2016. Those guys really stepped up and played well in spots and that should bode well for them in the future getting that kind of experience.
However, I don’t think that those two, or even Sammie Coates or Darrius Heyward-Bey are the types of guys that you want to be relying on as possibly your 2nd or 3rd option in the passing game, like we saw in the AFC Championship game against the Patriots.
The “conundrum” we saw was with Martavis Bryant back, the team looks pretty set with Brown, Martavis, and Eli Rogers as your top 3 options and solid depth behind them with the above guys. However, if Bryant slips up again this team is right back where they were last season with no real #2 receiver.
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think the Steelers target a wide receiver early in this draft, for a few reasons…
- Ben Roethlisberger’s “Retirement” Message – Since nobody truly believed that Ben would retire, most of the conversation around Ben’s comments became, “what is he really trying to say?” I think we might have all been over-thinking it a bit. That being said, I wouldn’t discount the possibility that during Ben’s end of season meeting with his coach that he might have pointed to how little help he got from his receivers in the AFC Championship game as something he’d like to see change.
- Art Rooney’s Comments – I’ve written a lot on this site about how transparent Art Rooney II tends to be in his end of season press conference. Art didn’t say much this year but he said he wants improvement in getting to the quarterback and improvement in red zone scoring. That could mean a lot of things, but a receiver with some redzone skills wouldn’t be out of the question. I also thought that Art’s comments about not being able to count on Martavis Bryant were spot on, and very telling. I think the team is optimistic about what Bryant may bring to the team, but they sound to me like they’re going to build as if he might be gone at any moment.
- Upcoming Free-Agents – Plenty have pointed out the Steelers’ practically unprecedented amount of cap room, but few have mentioned the massive amount of cash the team is likely to hand out to guys already on the roster in the next couple of years. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell may become the highest paid wide receiver and running back in the league this off-season. Just on the horizon, are possible new deals for Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier, Alejandro Villanueva, and Ross Cockrell. While it’s still 2 years away, Martavis Bryant is also not locked up, and I’ll be honest… No matter what happens with him over the next 2 season I don’t see him staying in Pittsburgh past his rookie deal. If Bryant stays clean and productive I’d imagine we’ll see another big-name receiver leave as a free agent, as has often been the case in Pittsburgh. The best case scenario is the team will need a #2 receiver at that point when he leaves, the worst case is that they need one right away.
- Colbert’s Draft History – Even just ignoring all the reasons that make sense for this team now to take one… Kevin Colbert never turns his back on taking a receiver if he likes the value. Colbert has taken a receiver in the top 3 rounds 9 times (counting Dri Archer as a WR) in his 17 drafts with the Steelers. The Steelers didn’t always necessarily have a huge need at the receiver position when he did it either.
Honestly, if the value was there, I wouldn’t even discount a wide receiver at the 30th pick. However, there’s only 2 guys that I really feel are a good value there and I think both will be long gone by then, Mike Williams of Clemson and my personal favorite, Corey Davis of Western Michigan. I could see John Ross being a possibility at 30 though.
Right now I like the 2nd round as a spot to guess the team pulls the trigger on one, and think I’ll probably have a receiver there in my next mock draft update. The Steelers could go a number of different directions there, but there’s several names that fit the range.
- John Ross, Washington – As I said above, I see Ross being more of an outside option at 30 than a 2nd rounder. While his size and play-style is more in the mold of an Eli Rogers, he also has the ability to stretch the field, and score. Despite his lack of size Ross was targeted heavily in the red-zone and scored 17 touchdowns last season. While some may be wary of Ross with the recent Antonio Brown gripes, I like that he gets emotional on the field when
- Curtis Samuel, Ohio State – I’m not convinced he helps this team inside the 20, but Samuel does make some sense for a team that needs help at the running back position as well. Todd Haley seems to be hopelessly in love with electrifying RB/WR tweeners and the Steelers/Buckeyes connection is well documented. Samuel may be what we were all hoping Dri Archer would be.
- Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington – The small school prospect made some money at the Senior Bowl. The production is certainly there, with him averaging over 18 touchdowns per season in college. His size and hands bode well for him as a red-zone threat. While he did make some plays a the senior bowl against higher level competition, I’m not sure he has the athletic ability to consistently beat NFL cornerbacks.
- Zay Jones, East Carolina – Jones has a lot of the same thing as Kupp honestly. He dominated lesser competition in college, but I question his athletic ability against NFL cornerbacks. Jones was more of a receptions guy than scorer like Kupp during his college career.
- Damore’ea Stringefellow, Ole Miss – Stringefellow is a guy that probably should’ve gone back to school for his senior season as he’s pretty raw, but I could see him being an interesting choice for the Steelers. I like the way he high points the ball and plays it in the air but his route running leaves much to be desired. He could be a nice pick that uses his strengths early on as a red zone specialist, while he works on becoming a more well-rounded player on the bench.