While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Should the Steelers be concerned about their depth at wide receiver?
Last offseason, the Steelers experienced a bit of a crisis at wide receiver after they lost two of their top three players at the position over the offseason, and three of their top four over the previous two offseasons.
Behind Antonio Brown, they only really had Markus Wheaton, a second-year receiver who was virtually a non-contributor in his rookie season. The front office moved quickly to sign veteran Lance Moore to a two-year contract, added Darrius Heyward-Bey for a minimum, and then drafted Martavis Bryant in the fourth round.
There was even Justin Brown, who contributed early in the season, and the Steelers ended up keeping two more wide receivers on the practice squad, for a total of eight at the position among their 63 players.
But it wasn’t too long into the season that the Steelers realized where their bread was buttered. It was the trio of Brown, Wheaton, and Bryant that developed into what will be the receiving corps of the future. Bryant in particular impressed, recording nine touchdowns in 11 games.
The Steelers offense is also one that gets a significant amount of production in the receiving game from other positions. Running back Le’Veon Bell and tight end Heath Miller are major contributors for Ben Roethlisberger, helping make the Steelers the only team in the league to have five players record at least 500 receiving yards.
Justin Brown has already been released, and Moore is likely to be released as well, by request. But Heyward-Bey should be re-signed easily enough, and there’s no reason he can’t serve adequately as a fourth receiver, especially in an offense that really doesn’t need to depend upon a fourth receiver.
The Steelers have done well in the past carrying just four wide receivers on the roster—and that’s ignoring the potential contributions of a second-year Dri Archer—so there’s no reason to think that they are in any kind of peril at the position, especially given how strong they are at the top of the depth chart.