It doesn’t exactly seem as though the Pittsburgh Steelers have an assigned number two receiver right now—let alone an obvious one. That fact has been thrust into the forefront over the past two games as offensive coordinator Todd Haley has looked to get rookie Martavis Bryant involved.
It’s certainly been working, with palpable results. In his 57 snaps played, he’s caught seven passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns, including longs of 35 yards and 52 yards, the latter being the longest reception for the Steelers this season.
His added playing time has shoehorned starter Markus Wheaton on and off the field, however. He himself has only logged 65 snaps over the last two weeks, but he finally emerged from a recent stretch of struggles to come out with one of his best games, catching all five passes in his direction for 56 yards, including an 18-yarder on the first touchdown of his career.
It was a much-needed confidence-boosting game for the second-year player being asked to step into a critical role on an offense tasked with carrying the brunt of the burden for a team that once prided itself on defensive prowess.
But the Steelers haven’t forgotten about their two free agent acquisitions, either. Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey have logged around 50 snaps apiece over the past two weeks as the offense continues to evaluate its options at the wide receiver position.
That is a process that was perhaps slowed down by the team’s early insistence on giving first-year receiver Justin Brown a long, hard look as the third option at the position. The former sixth-round draft pick logged 265 snaps over the first six weeks, but has been on the bench for each of the last two games, and perhaps for the foreseeable future.
In his absence, Moore had caught four passes for 45 yards and a touchdown, while Heyward-Bey has netted two receptions for 33 yards in the past two games—though that second reception resulted in a boneheaded fumble that may see his own playing time decrease.
Ultimately, it certainly seems as though the unit of the future will be Antonio Brown as the top option, with Wheaton and Bryant vying for the number two spot. The loser will still see significant playing time as the third option, though if Bryant is ultimately the third option, it’s likely Wheaton would move to the slot most often in three receiver sets.
For now, however, the young Bryant is still in the process of fleshing out his game and working to become more than just a package player built to catch out routes and fades in the end zone. He will need to do so to become a consistent starting player in the future, but in the meantime, it’s a highly effective weapon for Ben Roethlisberger and this offense to have coming off the bench.