The Optimist’s Take: Drafting For Wide Receiver

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 optimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Should the Steelers address the wide receiver position during the 2016 NFL Draft?

The Steelers enter the 2016 season returning four key wide receivers who contributed in some capacity last year, including three who contributed in a major way, and one who is expected to contribute in a greatly expanded way in his second season.

But they are also not returning one very significant contributor from last season with the suspension of Martavis Bryant, who will miss the entirety of the 2016 season and has to apply for reinstatement during the early portions of the 2017 offseason, which we have seen is no sure thing.

With Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, and Darrius Heyward-Bey all returning—this was their trio of wide receivers during the first five games of the 2015 season during Bryant’s previous suspension and subsequent knee injury—and the growth of Sammie Coates, perhaps a wide receiver is not necessary to add to the mix just yet.

But what about for 2017? By then, Wheaton will be hitting free agency, and if recent history is any indication, he will not be re-signed, especially if the Steelers are also facing the prospect of working out a long-term extension with Brown during that same span of time. Perhaps that is why they signed Heyward-Bey to a three-year extension.

At a certain point with Bryant, in addition, you simply have to plan as though he were not a part of the process, because you simply do not know if he will be—and there is every indication to believe that that is a very real possibility, considering he has been suspended twice in three seasons and will have been suspended for 20 of his potential first 48 games.

The Steelers, then, could potentially be going into 2017 with Brown at 29 years old, Heyward-Bey at 30, and Coates heading into his third year, who currently has three catches to his NFL legacy. That is a lot of potential uncertainty standing before them heading into the draft for the future.

Considering the open roster spot available for a returner, and the team’s gradually developing interest in some wide receivers—it seems at least two of their 30 pre-draft visitors will have been wide receivers—it’s a very real possibility that the team addresses the position in this draft, possibly relatively early, and there is a very strong argument for it. Part of it being simply that you can never have too many wide receivers, especially not in a closing championship window with an elite quarterback.

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