We’ve heard this cry for years in the Steel City… “We need a big target at wide receiver.”
Whether this call has come from Ben Roethlisberger, the front office or the entire fan base, it has been something we’ve lived with for some time now.
Everyone has their own definition as to what a ‘big’ or ‘tall’ wide receiver is, but nonetheless it has me thinking and researching.
Below you will see the top ten receivers in terms of passes caught in 2013.
Below that, you will see the top ten receivers in the same category from ten years earlier.
Along with their names in the order of top receiver on down, you will see their touchdown reception totals and their listed heights from that season as well.
Pierre Garcon 6’0″ 5tds
Antonio Brown 5’10” 8tds
Andre Johnson 6’3″ 5tds
Julian Edleman 5’10” 6tds
Brandon Marshall 6’4″ 12tds
AJ Green 6’4″ 11tds
Kendall Wright 5’10” 2tds
Dez Bryant 6’2″ 13tds
Demaryius Thomas 6’3″ 14tds
While everyone has their own interpretation of what height a ‘tall’ receiver is, I will use 6’2″ as the measuring stick in this situation.
The above list shows that receivers 6’2″ and over caught 50 touchdown passes in 2013. The receivers under 6’2″ caught 21 touchdown passes.
Now let’s compare receivers from ten years earlier.
Torry Holt 6’0″ 12tds
Randy Moss 6’4″ 17tds
Anquan Boldin 6’1″ 8tds
LaDanian Tomlinson* 5’10 4tds
Derek Mason 5’10” 8tds
Hines Ward 6’0″ 10tds
Marvin Harrison 6’0″ 10tds
Chad Johnson 6’1″ 10tds
Steve Smith 5’9″ 7tds
Keenan McCardell 6’1″ 8tds
* = Tomlinson is a running back
What you’ll notice immediately is that only one of the top ten pass catchers of 2003 is considered tall. It should come as no surprise that it was Randy Moss whose blend of speed and height was extremely unique to the league.
What we can also discern is how much the league has changed in just ten years and it continues to evolve today. As wide receivers have gotten bigger, faster and stronger, so to have cornerbacks. The days of the 5’9″ corner will soon be a thing of the past in my opinion.
For further proof of the ‘tall’ receiver necessity, look no further than the top ten leaders in touchdown receptions from last season.
Because of ties, 13 receivers were included in the top ten list. Only Wes Welker, and he finished tied for tenth, was under 6’2″.
If we look at touchdown leaders from 2003 where only one player over 6’2″ was among the top ten reception leaders, we find that five of the top 10 touchdown leaders were above 6’2″.
So what can we take from all of this? Is the need for a tall receiver in Pittsburgh really all that it’s cracked up to be?
I say it is because the proof is there that the game has changed drastically even from ten years ago in terms of pass catchers. What has always been however is that taller wide receivers and tight ends (Gonzalez, Graham, J. Thomas and V. Davis) score more touchdowns.
Ultimately this is the name of the game. While this is nothing more than a snapshot using just receptions and touchdown catches, I believe the Steelers need to invest in a guy that fits the mold of being both a tall receiver and a guy who catches touchdowns.
The ultimate question of course is…. Will they go get one?
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard weekly on Trib-Live Radio talking Steelers and is a blogger for ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh.