By Matthew Marczi
Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan now and he’ll tell you that the offseason began way too early for their team, which even according to team president Art Rooney II should have been in the playoffs.
If you asked that same fan at the Bye Week for their mock draft, however, they might have already had written up as the Steelers faced a seemingly unthinkable winless September to start the year.
There’s always somebody ready to start talking about the offseason, no matter how early on it is in the process. And in the middle of January, it’s still quite early to start talking about the draft—not that there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a pre-free agency, pre-salary cap purging look at the Steelers’ draft needs, position by position.
When I look at what the wide receiver depth chart currently has to offer, I find it rather wanting, although that excludes impending free agents Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Let’s take a look at what the Steelers are currently working with.
Antonio Brown: After a Pro Bowl and (second-team) All-Pro season during which he set a franchise record in receiving yards and became the first player in NFL history with at least five catches for 50 or more yards in every game, I think it’s safe to say that Antonio Brown has established himself as a key cog in this offense moving forward. Though his height limits him a bit, he gets every ounce out of his natural abilities and then some.
Markus Wheaton: During his rookie campaign, Markus Wheaton didn’t get much chance to contribute to the offense—certainly not as much as he would have liked. A big part of that was, of course, injuries hindering his production, but by the time he returned from injury, Cotchery was already entrenched as the slot receiver. The Steelers will be counting on a big leap from him in year two.
Derek Moye: Derek Moye is tall. Really tall. He’s also skinny. I worry about him breaking in half when I see him go up for a ball. But he did go up for a couple of balls last year, and he didn’t break in half, and sometimes he even came down with the ball. He caught one touchdown early in the season, but dropped another one later on. I’d like to see him show that he’s not just a tall target, because they already have tight ends for that. He needs to justify his roster spot without being a significant special teams contributor. Certainly if he wants to get a hat on Sundays.
Justin Brown: Moye is the reason that Justin Brown spent his rookie season on the practice squad. He’s tall and has decent speed for his size, but he wasn’t polished enough yet to beat out Moye as a rookie, despite having a decent showing early in the preseason.
Kashif Moore: A former undrafted free agent, Kashif Moore received very little playing time during the preseason, though he did manage two catches for 24 yards, including a reception of 20 yards in the final preseason game. Moore spent time on the practice squad, perhaps mainly for his potential ability as a returner.
Jasper Collins: An undrafted free agent last season, Jasper Collins evidently didn’t make any impact at all last year. He was waived injured in August by the Miami Dolphins and then spent time with the Cleveland Browns on their practice squad. He certainly won’t be affecting the Steelers’ draft strategy.
Draft Strategy: As alluded to earlier, there are two glaring omissions from the list above, as they are currently free agents. Cotchery is almost certain to return next season, whereas Sanders is likely to price his way out of Pittsburgh. There is a very minute chance of the Steelers giving Plaxico Burress another chance, but, again, he’ll have no impact on draft strategy.
Wide receiver can really be addressed at literally any point of this draft for the Steelers, as early as the first round, and possibly with multiple draft picks again. There will most likely be an opening for a starting receiver spot that Cotchery and Wheaton will wrestle for, though if the Steelers somehow land a top talent, a rookie could even be in the mix to start.
With a franchise quarterback in place, however, it’s imperative to replenish the wide receiver depth, so I feel confident that the position will be addressed early, within the first two days of the draft.
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Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Quarterback
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Running Back