Ever since Plaxico Burress left following Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season, the Steelers quarterback has been lobbying for a taller target, oftentimes through the media. The 6-foot-5 Burress only started 11 games that year , but as coincidence would have it, he posted the best yards-per-catch average of his career when Roethlisberger was throwing him the football, with 19.9.
Ever since he left town, Roethlisberger was left throwing the football to Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El, Arnaz Battle, Jerricho Cotchery and Mike Wallace, with a bag of mixed results. Ward is arguably the best receiver in the history of the franchise and a potential Hall Of Famer, but Ben still lobbied for that lanky, tall wide out on the outside.
In the 2008 NFL Draft, then-second-year head coach Mike Tomlin had what looked to be “on paper” a great draft, snagging the muscular, multi-faceted running back Rashard Mendenhall in the first round. In the second round, he granted Roethlisberger an early birthday wish, plucking the 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver Limas Sweed out of Texas.
In his junior year as a Longhorn, Sweed busted another questionable NFL receiver prospect’s record in Roy Williams’ record for consecutive games with a touchdown catch, with seven. However, their professional resumes don’t compare, as Sweed has caught just 7 balls for 69 yards in his career. He always flashed his talent, consistently running by defensive backs into the open field like a gazelle roaming free on the open savannah. However, as consistent as that was, it was his inconsistent, or non-existent hands that doomed his days in the black and gold.
However, in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the team took raw receiver Martavis Bryant, the 6-foot-4, 211-pounder with the 4.42 speed and 39-inch leap. Hyped as a raw slab of concrete, he now looks more legitimate than his hyped-up ex-teammate, Sammy Watkins, the Buffalo Bills’ first rounder in the same draft.
Bryant can literally drop a Hiroshima-type bomb on a defense, and once you get that long-strider downfield with that speed, it’s a difficult assignment to stop, especially with that height and jump-ball ability. He conjures up images of a young Randy Moss, and when comparing the quarterback situation in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, well that’s where the story ends because there isn’t one.
He’s the bona-fide big target Roethlisberger has been asking for ever since his rookie year, and his average yards-per-catch last season of 21.1, including two 80-plus bombs, undoubtedly shows his ability to absolutely take a secondary, throw them on the grill and leave them absolutely sizzled and well-done. And this is likely the #2 option we’re talking about, not All-World Antonio Brown, who if he stays healthy, will shatter the records of ex-Colt Marvin Harrison.
In the third round in the 2013 NFL Draft, the team grabbed track star Markus Wheaton out of Oregon State University, in hopes that he could potentially fill the shoes of the departed Mike Wallace. However, his skill set is best suited working out of the slot, and when his contract runs up, the team took an insurance policy in the form of third rounder Sammie Coates in this past draft, who much like Bryant, is a size-speed burner. With or without Wheaton, the next several years, perhaps the last in Roethlisberger’s career, will give him the finest receiving set he’s ever had at his fingertips. And for as talented as Brown is, it’s the ability of Bryant to ignite an NFL defense on fire that should excite Steeler Nation.