We turn our attention to the wide receiver position as we continue our Training Camp Previews for the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers. There should not be much debate about the top four guys but after that there is plenty to discuss.
Previous Previews: Click here for all of them.
By The Numbers
2019 Receiving Yards: 3,214 (31st)
2019 Receiving Touchdowns: 18 (29th)
2019 Receptions: 315 (26th)
2019 Yards per Catch: 10.2 (31st)
JuJu Smith-Schuster (4 seasons)
JuJu recorded just 522 receiving yards and three scores in 2019. To say it was a season to forget for him is an understatement. Poor QB play and injuries are certainly to blame but we cannot totally dismiss the absence of Antonio Brown either. The difficult part of him having a poor season in year three is that now he enters the final year of his contract with doubts. Will the Steelers extend him prior to the season? Most believe not which means he’ll be on the market in 2021 and a big year means he probably prices himself out of Pittsburgh. Let’s hope not.
Diontae Johnson (2 seasons)
The rookie led the Steelers in receptions with 59 and in touchdown receptions with five. He was expected to see some action and be a contributor in his rookie campaign but few saw him having the season he did. He also excelled as a punt returner taking one to the house against Arizona. His route-running skills are tremendous and the expectations for him will be high in 2020. His presence could make life easier for Smith-Schuster.
James Washington (3 seasons)
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy really started to gain his traction last season leading the team in receiving yards with 735 on 44 receptions. His ability to make big plays on deep balls and run after the catch was on full display in 2019. It would seem that the sky is definitely the limit for him entering the new campaign and that is certainly our expectation.
Ryan Switzer (4 seasons)
In nine games last year, Switzer had just 27 yards receiving on eight receptions. He missed almost half of the season with an injury but is currently 100% and ready to go. What Switzer has going for him is experience and a very team-friendly contract.
Deon Cain (3 seasons)
Cain caught just five passes for 72 yards in limited action with the Steelers but many fans believe they saw enough to have the young man back in 2020. The former Clemson Tiger is long and athletic and is always a threat down the field. He will face an uphill battle with a couple of things working against him.
Amara Darboh (3 seasons), Qadree Henderson (2 seasons)
Chase Claypool (Rookie)
The former Notre Dame product comes to Pittsburgh off a season where he caught 66 passes for 1,037 yards and 13 scores. The best way to describe Claypool’s style is “bullish.” He’s got big, strong hands and rarely loses a combat catch. As a blocker he’s just as devastating and will often drive defenders 10 yards downfield. Despite his 6’4″ 240lbs frame, he has very good speed and the ability to run after the catch. He may well be that “big, tall wide receiver” that Ben Roethlisberger has longed for in the Steel City.
Barring something of a miraculous or horrendous nature, the top four wide receivers are set. It’s a done deal so no use in discussing it further. Where things get dicey is when we talk about the fifth spot. Ryan Switzer comes cheap as he is still on his rookie contract. But he’s also highly ineffective. He has literally become a “Catch and get tackled” guy offering little to no escapability and he goes down on the first contact. His punt return skills were once thought to be his bread and butter but he suffers from the same ailments he does as a receiver. He is not fast enough to break away and goes down when hit. If it were me, it wouldn’t even be a decision and he’d be gone. But… He’s also very tight with Ben Roethlisberger. They are both married, have young families and share passion for their faith. This should not matter but you know and I know it does. Cain could very easily get the nod over him but his lack of special teams’ play is a negative.
Roster Spots: Smith-Schuster, Johnson, Washington, Claypool, Switzer (Cain if they go with six)