For the first six games of his rookie season, wide receiver Martavis Bryant spent game days looking on from the sidelines in street clothes, wondering when he would get his opportunity, and how much more he would have to show to finally get on the field.
He bided his time, waiting to earn the coaches’ trust, particularly wide receivers coach Richard Mann, watching as Justin Brown, Lance Moore, and even Darrius Heyward-Bey contributed to Ben Roethlisberger’s aerial efforts and wondering why he couldn’t be doing the same.
Of course, there were good reasons for that, some of which we continued to see once he got on the field. He was raw. Very raw. His route running was unpolished. And, of course, he suffered a shoulder injury at the end of the preseason, to make matters worse.
But as Brown continued to underwhelm while absorbing almost all of the slot receiver snaps, Bryant continued to improve and to gain trust, and by the seventh game of the season, it was finally his turn. Perhaps it was inspired by the waiting period, but he made sure to make an impact that would show the coaching staff that they had to leave him on the field.
For the first catch of his NFL career, he burned the opposing cornerback to make an impressive grab for a 35-yard touchdown, after which he went careening into the barrier behind the end zone separating the fans from the field.
For an encore, he caught two touchdown passes in the following game, and then repeated the effort in his third game. He caught five touchdown passes in his first three games, a full third of the touchdown passes that the Steelers threw during that three-game winning streak.
The following week, he added and 80-yard touchdown in a losing effort. Three games later, he helped seal a key division victory with a fourth quarter touchdown of 94 yards. And in the season finale, against the Bengals once again, he helped prop up the margin of victory to 10 with a 21-yard screen pass for his eight touchdown in 10 games played.
That number 21 is key, because it’s just shy of the yards that he averaged per catch during his rookie season. As a matter of fact, he led the league in yards per reception with 21.1 among all players who caught at least five passes.
Bryant caught 26 passes on the season, totaling 549 yards, and, according to Pro Football Focus, averaging 2.76 yards per route run, the third-highest in the league. That’s certainly a tremendous value in terms of bang for your buck production based on snaps.
There was a point in this season in which it seemed that anything Bryant would provide as a rookie would be just a cherry on top. But now it seems like he may be vying for a starting job next season as he gains a better understanding and sense of professionalism about his craft and of the offense.