At quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s disposal is arguably the most talented receiving corps in the entire league, littered with an All-Pro like Antonio Brown to up-and-comer Martavis Bryant. He even has “old reliable”, Heath Miller, his security blanket of a tight end who, even at 32 years of age, still gets the job done. Despite the gaudy stats of a Julius Thomas or a Rob Gronkowski, he’s often revered as the best all-around TE in the game. But what’s behind them though, filling in the cracks on the depth chart?
As we head towards to dog days of summer, the Steelers training camp looms, and this will be the team’s 50th year hosting their training camp in Latrobe at the small liberal arts school, St Vincent College. Across the board, there figures to be some interesting position battles, from a group of undrafted-yet-talented offensive lineman to the aging James Harrison, a former DPOY looking to wrestle the starting gig away from first 2013 first-rounder, Jarvis Jones. However, it’s at the wide receiver position where some very intriguing battles for roster spots look to develop.
The first four spots on the depth chart are virtual locks in Brown, Bryant, Markus Wheaton and 2015 third-round deep threat, Sammie Coates. After that, it’s wide open but it should be noted that a favorite for the fifth spot is Darrius Heyward-Bey, a former first round pick who at this stage of his career, offers little in the passing game, due to very questionable hands. What he does offer though is good special teams ability, a must for the backup players of Pittsburgh.
Another player to note is second-year “athlete” Dri Archer, and I use that term because what is he, a running back or a wide receiver? Wherever he’s listed at on the team’s roster will go a long way in determining the difference between a player cracking the 53-man roster versus the practice squad. In 2014, Archer looked like a fish out of water when running his 5-foot-8, 173-pound frame between the tackles, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley would be smarter to use him in more of a receiving role, like a Dexter McCluster or De’Anthony Thomas, getting him in space to utilize his 4.2 speed against mismatched linebackers or safeties
Behind them, we have the likes of “slash” player Devin Gardner, C.J. Goodwin and Eli Rogers. Rogers is a bit undersized and looks like a long shot unless he has one hell of a camp. As noted earlier this offseason by Alex Kozora, Goodwin seems to be the ultimate dark horse of the pack, possessing the measurables at 6-foot-3, with a 4.41 40 and 40-inch vertical, to make a difference. He’ll likely have to unseat Heyward-Bey for a roster spot though, meaning sharpening his axe on special teams. Gardner could have a shot, especially on the practice squad, but if the reports of Landry Jones’ performances in recent OTA’s are an indicator, the team could be looking for a new #3 quarterback.
With another year of offseason work under his belt, I truly believe Goodwin has what it takes to unseat Heyward-Bey. He could even offer Ben another big target with leaping ability if he would ever see any time on offense, barring any horrific injuries of course. I think Gardner is a likely candidate for the practice squad, as he looks to continue making the transition from a quarterback in a spread offense in college to an NFL wide receiver. Unfortunately, teams can’t keep everybody and Rogers very well could be the odd man out in the equation.