While the Pittsburgh Steelers knew going in that their draft board would, by the end of the weekend skew heavily to the defense, and general manager Kevin Colbert acknowledged that they had the sense that it might work out to the 6-to-2 ratio that ended up being the case, the team did manage to add two key players at good positions of value.
In addition to finding their tight end in the fifth round, the Steelers secured depth for the wide receiver position by selecting Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates in the third round, who at that point was higher on their board than any defensive player.
Many passed off the wide receiver position as one that was essentially locked down already with the top three on the depth chart in Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton, with the free agent retention of Darrius Heyward-Bey.
But for a team that so prevalently relies on 11 personnel on offense with three wide receivers on the field, wide receiver depth is absolutely critical in order to insulate yourself against any kind of obstacle that may come up, chief among them injuries.
As the roster stood prior to the draft, for example, should a long-term injury have befallen one of the Steelers’ top-end players on the depth chart, that would have meant extended action for Heyward-Bey, which is obviously not on the team envisioned, and why they chose to add Coates when they did.
It is worth recalling that the Steelers came into the 2014 regular season opener with six wide receivers on the depth chart, including the four that they carried heading into the draft. But they released Justin Brown during the season, and then did the same to Lance Moore, one of their ‘key’ free agent acquisitions that simply didn’t work out, during the offseason.
Considering that Heyward-Bey was sixth on the depth chart and was moved up to fourth by these departures, and given their pre-draft interest in the wide receiver position, which represented value in this class, it stands to reason that the Steelers were hoping to expand their options should their receiving group sustain an injury.
While Coates is not a finished product, more a particularly polished route runner, reminiscent of Bryant in that way, he has had more playing experience than Bryant and should be more pro-ready as a result.
During his rookie season a year ago, Bryant was on the bench for the first six games of the season. That will not be the case for Coates, although he will naturally have a greater advantage due to the reduced numbers at the position and the likelihood that he will contribute on special teams.
Most important, however, is simply his presence on the roster as a player that represents quality depth at a critical position of an increasingly important offensive side of the ball, which is on the cusp of breaking out as an elite group. A position, that is, that was lacking in depth heading into the draft, even if many of the experts left off wide receiver from the team’s list of needs.