Last offseason, amid much clamoring for the Pittsburgh Steelers to finally give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a big receiver to throw to, cornerback Ike Taylor made a bold prediction, although not a spot-on one. He forecasted that the team would draft Clemson receiver Martavis Bryant in the second round, after going with a cornerback in round one. Although the team did grab Bryant, it wasn’t until the fourth round, and after a successful rookie campaign, one can wonder if he’ll be the next in a long line of late-round receiver gems that general manager Kevin Colbert is becoming known for unearthing.
A jumbo receiver at 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds, Bryant had the 2014 NFL Combine abuzz with his blazing 40 time of 4.42 seconds, and an explosive 39-inch vertical leap. He is exactly what Roethlisberger has been asking the team for, seemingly every offseason, ever since the departure of Plaxico Burress after Ben’s rookie campaign in 2004.
After missing the first six games of his rookie season due to an A/C sprain suffered in preseason, the offense began firing on all cylinders since, coincidentally since the insertion of rookie wide receiver Bryant into the lineup. In Week 7, on Monday Night Football versus the Houston Texans, Bryant made his NFL debut, and in grand fashion, snagging two balls for 40 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown strike. The following week when the team hosted Indianapolis was truly his coming out party though, as he made five grabs for 83 yards and two scores, while Roethlisberger simply took the passing section of the Steelers’ record book and lit it on fire.
Bryant simply adds another dimension in the passing game that the smaller Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton simply don’t have and that’s size. You can’t teach it and you can’t coach it. Not only that, Bryant is a long strider and runs like a deer. Need proof? Look no further than his 80-yard touchdown reception versus the New York Jets, or his 94-yarder versus the Cincinnati Bengals, both in which his world class speed was on display as he absolutely torched their secondaries. He’s definitely someone that needs to be accounted for on every single snap, drawing blanket coverages away from Brown and opening up the underneath routes.
Obviously, down in the red zone is another area where Bryant has had an impact as well. While many of his touchdowns this season have been the long-bomb variety where he just blew the lid off the defense, several others have been from short range. At his height, coupled with superb leaping ability, he is a nightmare down near the goal line.
He finished a stellar rookie campaign with 26 catches for 549 and eight touchdowns, and his 21.1 yards-per-catch average was near tops in the league. Mike Wallace who? While not possessing Wallace’s track speed, Bryant is right there in terms of taking the top off the defense, and coupled with his jump-ball ability, conjures up images of a young Randy Moss.
Notably raw coming out of Clemson, and buried for much of his time there behind the more ballyhooed Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, one has to wonder what will Bryant be capable of once he’s totally comfortable within the Steelers’ offense, with a full offseason to prepare?
Head coach Mike Tomlin had high praise for his prized rookie after the season ended.
“I saw growth in him and that growth came with snaps,” he said. “I am going to be watching him very closely as he proceeds.”
Bryant seems to agree with his head coach, and the only one holding himself back from being the player he wants to become is staring at him in the mirror each morning.
“The sky’s the limit as long as I continue to work,” the rookie said. “I’m not setting any bars for myself.”