We have completed our post draft state of the roster looks at the offensive line, defensive line and running backs for the Pittsburgh Steelers and today will have a look at the wide receiver position following the draft as the Steelers head towards training camp now.
Mike Wallace – Wallace was restricted tendered at a first round level prior to the start of free agency, but he has yet to sign it. It is not hard to imagine that the fourth year receiver will miss most of, if not all of, the offeseason workouts as he stands his ground for a long -deal. The Steelers have voiced since the end of the 2011 season that getting Wallace signed to a long-term deal is a priority, but both sides seem far apart right now on the numbers. The Steelers could lower his tender offer on June 15th, but likely won\’t as an act of good faith. Wallace will likely arrive get back to work with his teammates when training camp rolls around and this is when the Steelers will likely resume talks again with him and his agent Bus Cook. Wallace has an astounding 18.7 yards per catch through his first three seasons and now must work on perfecting his underneath game. Following the week 11 bye Wallace recorded just 19 catches for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns. Was that a drop off for Wallace or was it just the Steelers not having to rely on him so much with the continued emergence of Antonio Brown? Wallace stretches an opponent\’s defense like no other receiver in the game and he will play a huge role in getting the Steelers back to the Super Bowl with that ability alone.
Antonio Brown – Hines Ward is now gone for good and Brown really came into his own in his second season to show he can replace him. He will most likely start on the other side of Wallace and has the ability to play both in the slot as well as outside moving forward. While effective on both punt and kick-offs, the Steelers will likely look to remove both of those task from him so he can dedicate himself completely to the offensive side of the ball. In addition it will lessen the shots he has to take by not being the return man. The biggest task for Brown moving forward will be to learn the new offense of Todd Haley and understand the hot reads that go along with that, something he struggled with last season at times. Brown is a consummate professional who dedicates himself entirely to his craft and the sky is the limit for him moving forward. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract and the pay-off will be a big contract assuming his progression continues. There is no reason to think that it won\’t.
Emmanuel Sanders – Like Brown, Sanders is also entering the final year of his rookie deal. Unfortunately he struggled to stay on the field last season because of foot and knee problems, but hopefully all of that is now behind him. Sanders is a solid route runner, and now that Ward is gone, he is the best blocker the Steelers have at the wide receiver position. Sanders is most effective in the slot and that is where he will likely see the most of his snaps in 2012, mostly in three wide receiver sets. 35 of his 50 career receptions during the regular season have produced first downs with 10 of the 50 going for explosive plays of 20 yards or more. During the AFC Wild Card last season against the Denver Broncos we saw the type of receiver that Sanders can be as he hauled in 6 catches for 81 yards. Although he was told this offseason that he could possibly be the return man this year on both punts and kickoffs, that is likely not set in stone now that Chris Rainey has been drafted. It would be nice if Rainey could handle both duties to lighten the load on Sanders, who could easily register 50 catches in 2012 if he stays healthy.
Jerricho Cotchery – The Steelers re-signed Cotchery this offseason and it was an excellent decision to do so. Not only can he continue to serve as a leader to the young receivers on the roster, he also provides excellent insurance for Sanders should he continued to be nagged by injuries. Much like Sanders, Cotchery is best used in the slot and he should see most of his snaps in three and four wide receiver sets. Although he only caught 14 passes last season, they resulted in a 14.8 average per catch with 13 of them moving the chains and 2 resulting in touchdowns. Cotchery would have provided more in his first season in Pittsburgh if not for suffering a hamstring injury in his first preseason game as it cost him valuable time in the offense early on. Although it will not be required of the veteran, he can return punts in emergency situations as well as play on special teams. He should serve as both a third and fourth receiver on the Steelers depth chart this upcoming year and round out what could arguably be called the best group of four receivers in the league right now.
Toney Clemons – Clemons was drafted in the seventh round last month and the fifth wide receiver spot on the Steelers depth chart is his for the taking. He will face camp competition from a several undrafted and unheralded free agent types, but his combative catch nature combined with his speed offers tremendous upside. Clemons never received consistent coaching while in college after spending time at both Michigan and Colorado, but he will get that now from wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery, who is credited with the development of Wallace, Brown and Sanders thus far. The stiffest competition in training camp will figure to come from fellow rookie Marquis Maze and Derrick Williams, a castoff from the Detroit Lions.
Derrick Williams – Williams was originally drafted by the Lions in the 3rd round of the 2009 NFL Draft after playing his college ball at Penn State. He only has 9 catches to his credit in his two seasons with the Lions, but he did return 42 kickoffs in his rookie season that resulted in a 22.2 yard average per return as well as two fumbles in addition. The best shot at making the 53 man roster for Williams would be to beat out Clemons during training camp and the preseason.
Marquis Maze – The undersized Maze is currently the smallest player height wise on the Steelers offseason roster at 5 foot 8. At Alabama Maze led the team in receptions this past season with 56 and recorded a pair of 100-yard receiving games in addition. He also ranked 10th nationally and 3rd in the SEC with 12.39 yards per punt return. He is a shifty receiver that will likely only make the Steelers 53 man roster as a specialist and that would likely mean that he would need to beat out fifth round draft pick Rainey for that spot. He is a prime candidate for the Steelers practice squad with a solid training camp. It is not out of the question that the Steelers could keep 6 wide receivers out of camp, but the versatility of Rainey makes it likely that they will keep just 5 instead. Keeping 5 would mean that Maze needs to beat out Clemons and Williams as a wide receiver first and foremost.
Tyler Beiler, Connor Dixon, David Gilreath, Juamorris Stewart, Jimmy Young – This group of five receivers are all considered camp bodies at this point. Beiler , Gilreath, Stewart and Young were all signed as futures players this offseason, while Dixon was added as an undrafted free agent following the draft. It would take a near miracle and a few injuries for any of these 5 players to make the 53 man roster and the only hope for each is to show enough during their limited snaps to be considered for the practice squad.
Post Draft Prediction 53 Man Roster Wide Receivers