The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: With the opening created by Martavis Bryant’s suspension, will Sammie Coates be able to break out in his second season?
Following the news of Martavis Bryant’s year-long suspension, it is hard to imagine the Steelers’ offense being quite the same without him, considering how explosive they have been since he has been on the field for them over the course of the past two seasons. He has also stepped up as a postseason performer in his two seasons as well.
Knowing that something like this could arise, the Steelers did draft wide receiver Sammie Coates last year. But that doesn’t mean that he is just going to slide into Bryant’s role and become his one-for-one replacement. Not overnight anyway.
Coates will be working his way up the depth chart, on which he will likely begin as no better than the fourth on the wide receiver depth chart behind Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. While he figures to get some playing time in three-receiver sets, it would seem unlikely that they will turn to him immediately in that role.
It also bears keeping in mind just how heavily the Steelers have enjoyed incorporating the running back position into the passing game over the past few years, and with Le’Veon Bell returning healthy and unsuspended once again, one has to assume that he is going to absorb a healthy portion of the targets that would otherwise have been allocated to Bryant.
Ladarius Green, the team’s new pass-catching tight end, will also demand attention from Ben Roethlisberger after the front office gave him a four-year, $20 million contract. He wasn’t brought in for depth, that’s for sure. He is going to play a lot, and he is going to catch a lot of passes.
At the start of the season, at least, the Steelers will likely rely upon Heyward-Bey to step into Bryant’s role as a deep target due to his experience and his familiarity with Roethlisberger and the offense. His size and speed are at worst comparable to that of Coates’, and he has the resume to support tangible results, with four receptions of at least 40 yards just last year in limited play. In other words, don’t expect the team to force Coates onto the field.