The Pittsburgh Steelers have wrapped things up in minicamp and put an end to their spring practices, which means that we are officially into the dead zone, the slowest time of the year for football news and general activity, the time between the end of spring drills in mid-June to the opening of training camps in late July.
Before we get there, we are going to take a look at how the team’s roster has evolved since prior to the draft, the last time that we broke down the Steelers by position, and obviously a lot has changed since they have fleshed out their 90-man roster.
Position: Wide Receiver
Total Positional Figure: 11
Antonio Brown: It’s difficult to talk up Antonio Brown any more than he already has been, except to say that every time you think he’s reached his peak, he goes beyond it. It’s hard to imagine him getting much better—he can’t get any taller—though he has implied that his spring spent dancing has improved his footwork.
Markus Wheaton: With Martavis Bryant’s suspension, Markus Wheaton is going to be relied upon primarily as the number two wide receiver. He had a nice second half to his third season and came away with career-high numbers with five touchdowns and 17 yards per catch. He’ll likely be in and out of the slot.
Sammie Coates: The second-year man Sammie Coates has an opportunity to carve out a huge role for himself. So far he’s gotten ringing endorsements about his conditioning this year and has made some big plays in camp, but we must wait until the pads come on.
Darrius Heyward-Bey: After a year of just finding his way on the team, Darrius Heyward-Bey proved last year that he can still be an offensive contributor, and he made a number of big plays. If my memory is correct, he caught five passes of 40 yards or more, and had a couple of touchdowns.
Eli Rogers: After spending his rookie season on injured reserve, the undrafted man Eli Rogers is hoping to prove that his spring praises were not a one-off. He is in the running to land the fifth wide receiver spot, particularly if he can return, but he has some competition.
Shakim Phillips: That competition includes Shakim Phillips, who made some big plays in the preseason last year and spent 2015 on the practice squad. With good size and speed, he could at least wind up back there.
Levi Norwood: A first-year player signed in February, the six-foot Levi Norwood has return skills, but he has also gotten some positive talk for his work with the lower-tier quarterbacks in the spring. He could be a surprise.
Issac Blakeney: Another Reserve/Future signing, Issac Blakeney sure is tall at over 6’4” (officially, though generously, listed at 6’6”). But Antonio Brown is 5’10”, so he has to be more than tall to make the roster. Still, he’s hung around since then and the Steelers added three wide receivers in the interim.
Demarcus Ayers: The first wide receiver added was Demarcus Ayers, drafted in the seventh round. While he appears to have been drafted because he was their highest-rated punt returner, Ayers is no slouch as a pass catcher, and should be one of the favorites to make the team.
Canaan Severin: Canaan Severin, listed at 6’2”, is an intriguing prospect signed as a rookie undrafted free agent after the draft. He has some former Steelers connections as well. I’ll be watching him closely in the preseason.
Marcus Tucker: Marcus Tucker was signed as a tryout player, one of four, and the Steelers released another wide receiver in order to sign him. It’s always a good start when a team lets another guy go in your spot to add you.
Tobais Palmer: Tobais Palmer was another Reserve/Future signing after the season, but was released when they added Tucker. He has been in the league a few years, mostly on practice squads, and has since been picked up by the Panthers.
Notes and Camp Outlook: Obviously, the Steelers have to deal with Bryant’s year-long indefinite suspension, which throws a wrench into the proceedings, but they prepared for this possibility. I believe they have a strong top four, so what will be interesting to watch is how the battle for the fifth wide receiver develops between players like Rogers, Ayers, Phillips, Severin, and Norwood. They will likely keep at least seven including the practice squad.