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 pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Should the Steelers be concerned about their depth at wide receiver?
Because of the fact that they lost two of their top three wide receivers during free agency in 2014, the Steelers had some work to do to replenish their depth at the position, signing veteran receivers Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey and adding Martavis Bryant in the draft.
In the end, the team actually ended up carrying six wide receivers on the depth chart, plus a running back/wide receiver, while stashing another two wide receivers on the practice squad. Those numbers would seem to suggest that there should be carryover to this season, but that may not be the case.
For starters, Heyward-Bey is a pending free agent, while Moore is expected to be released, after having requested that the organization do so. Even Justin Brown, the second-year receiver who was keeping him off the field in the beginning of the year, was released.
Thus, we can only reasonably suspect right now that the depth chart for 2015 will consist of Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, and Bryant. That appears to be a strong top three, with the latter two still somewhat banking on the promise of future growth, admittedly. Any group that includes Brown, of course, needs to be considered above average by default.
But it’s tough to play with only three receivers, and the fact of the matter is that the Steelers were quite lucky in terms of keeping their wideouts healthy a year ago. What happens if Brown goes down? Can Wheaton and Bryant pick up the slack for any extended period of time? And who plays in three-receiver sets?
The way the depth chart is currently shaped, everybody has their place in the hierarchy at which they work best. To suffer an injury will throw everything out of whack, and given the increasing importance of the aerial assault in the Steelers’ offense, it might not be a bad idea for the Steelers to try to strengthen the back end of the wide receiver depth chart.