Don’t be surprised if the Pittsburgh Steelers wind up spending a second or third-round draft pick this year on another wide receiver. Why, you might ask? Because like or not, the need for another young receiver is real.
For starters, the Steelers will be without the services of Martavis Bryant for the entire 2016 season due to him being suspended by the league for once again violating the league’s substance abuse policy. On top of him not being around this season, there’s no guarantee that the former fourth-round draft pick out of Clemson will ever play another snap in the NFL. In other words, the Steelers must proceed as if he won’t and with good reason.
While the Steelers will once again rely heavily on fourth-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton in 2016, the Oregon State product will more than likely be allowed to test free agency after the year is over and should that ultimately happen, I would bet good money that he winds up signing a lucrative deal with another team. While Wheaton did progress nicely in 2015, he still left several plays on the field just the same and most notably in the Steelers playoff loss to the Denver Broncos.
Behind Wheaton on the Steelers wide receiver depth chart currently sits second-year player Sammie Coates and veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey. While Coates is expected to make huge strides in 2016, he’ll enter the season having only played 59 total offensive snaps and that includes both of the Steelers playoff games last season of which he was inactive for one of them. As for Heyward-Bey, while he is certainly a lock to make the Steelers 53-man roster in 2016 as the team’s No.3 or No. 4 pass catching option, his future past this year is very questionable.
Sure, the Steelers are probably very excited to see what young receivers Eli Rogers and Shakim Phillips have to offer this year during training camp and the preseason, but expecting either to become future starters at this point would borderline on over-the-top homerism.
For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that Bryant has played his last down in Pittsburgh and with that, let’s assume Wheaton will move on to greener pastures next offseason. That would leave the Steelers with Antonio Brown, Coates and Heyward-Bey when it comes to the top of their wide receiver depth chart heading into the 2017 season. Brown, by the way, will turn 29 years of age a few weeks prior to the Steelers reporting to Latrobe for training camp in 2017 and he’ll more than likely still be looking for another long-term deal by then as well.
While Brown was a great find by Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert during the sixth-round of the 2010 NFL Draft, it’s asking a lot for him to duplicate that magic again during this year’s draft. In other words, the Steelers probably need to seriously consider selecting another young top-rated wide receiver in the first-three rounds of this year’s draft in hopes of increasing their odds of finding a long-term contributor at the position.
While the Steelers only brought in three wide receivers for pre-draft visits (includes one local player) this past month, all three are expected to hear their names called prior to the end of the fourth round. That short list of wide receiver visitors includes Oklahoma product Sterling Shepard, who very much fits what Pittsburgh looks for when it comes to the position. Shepard, however, is a bona-fide second-round prospect and thus will be hard to pass up with the 58th overall selection. Personally, I wouldn’t ignore that possibility in your final mock drafts if I were you.