There’s a natural excitement for any rookie. To buckle your chin strap for the first time, officially breaking into the NFL. So while it’s no story that seventh round pick Demarcus Ayers is happy to be with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was specifically asked about working with special teams coach Danny Smith.
“I like his fire,” he told Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews. “I like his edge. He’s a very competitive guy. I like that he thinks highly of me. Just for me to have the opportunity to come in and compete for a job as a punt returner or kick returner. I just like him. He’s putting a lot of pressure on me and I’m excited for the opportunity.”
It was Smith who was trotted out by the team to introduce the pick and confirmed that Ayers’ primary focus will be as a punt returner, with the goal of taking Antonio Brown off that unit.
In the conversation, Ayers mentioned Brown, saying that was his favorite NFL player. With Brown’s work ethic and attention to detail, it’s hard to think of a better player to learn from. He’ll also be in the same room with veterans Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey, regarded as professionals who put in extra work each day at training camp.
While we have plenty of time to discuss Ayers’ future, and as I said in my draft recap the other day, training camp will tell this story, the #5 WR spot is wide open. There is no favorite behind Brown, Wheaton, Sammie Coates, and Heyward-Bey. But there is intrigue.
Eli Rogers is cut from a similar cloth as Ayers and flashed in shells during the training camp a year ago. But a foot injury ended his rookie year before even the Hall of Fame game. That may have turned out to be a blessing considering Rogers has hinted many times it’s an injury that has lingered since high school and he’ll now get to play football at 100% health.
Shakim Phillips is a much different type of receiver. Big, strong, but shows excellent body control and the ability to make tough catches. He has the benefit of practicing for the entire season and mentally/physically, is likely ahead of Rogers and Ayers.
Rounding out the group are a ton of futures contracts, in my estimation, led by Duke’s Issac Blakeney. It’s easy to fall in love with his 6’4, 223 pound frame, but he has a strong track background and jumped incredibly well at his Pro Day. A 36.5 inch vert and 10’9″ in the broad.
The Steelers have been one of the top teams in cultivating late-round receiver talent and will come into training camp with another talented group from top to bottom.