Pittsburgh Steelers fans and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have been calling for a tall wide receiver to be drafted ever since Plaxico Burress left town for the New York Giants during the 2005 free agency period. The picks of Fred Gibson, Dallas Baker, Justin Brown, and of course the infamous Limas Sweed have failed to pan out in providing Big Ben a consistent “tall threat”.
Former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and general manager Kevin Colbert were often blamed for red zone issues due to them drafting/targeting “shorter” wide receivers like Antonio Brown (no one’s complaining now), Mike Wallace, and Emmanuel Sanders. But in recent seasons, the biggest thing missing from the offense was not necessarily a tall receiver but a deep threat.
Since Wallace cashed in with the Miami Dolphins after the 2012 season, this team has not had a consistent deep threat. Antonio Brown is literally the most consistent wide receiver in the game and can run every route in the book but he’s not a consistent deep threat. Emmanuel Sanders last year and Markus Wheaton this year add a lot to the intermediate passing game but neither of them had been downfield phenoms either. Enter Martavis Bryant.
It took some time for Bryant to see the field due to injuries and the rookie learning curve. But since he has stepped into the lineup, the complexity of the offense has changed. He offers the possibility of a big play at any time. He hasn’t been the red zone monster that everyone expected but he’s only had two games where he’s averaged less than 15 yards per catch.
Bryant has already had a better rookie year than Burress. He’s also averaged 21.1 yards per catch compared to Wallace’s 19.4 yards per catch and he has seven touchdowns compared to Wallace’s six with one game left to play. Bryant’s play has been somewhat of a happy surprise as he came out of Clemson extremely raw and lacking great route running ability. Antonio Brown has been a huge part of his development just as Hines Ward was to AB. The sky is the limit for Bryant once he gets a second full offseason under wide receivers coach Richard Mann.
Bryant hasn’t had a touchdown since the last Cincinnati game but he could be in for a huge game Sunday night against the Bengals who might be starting the underwhelming Dre Kirkpatrick. The Steelers are going to need Bryant at his best in the playoffs.