He didn’t get a lot of playing time, nor opportunities to demonstrate his potential, but what I did see from Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Demarcus Ayers left me preliminarily encouraged. And that is saying something considering that he had only three touches in the game, one being a 14-yard run, a five-yard reception, and a punt return for two yards, negated by penalty.
Before getting into the nuances of every touch, however, I would like to give Ayers some credit just for how he looked out on the field. He got into the game late, in the third quarter, and most of his snaps came with third- or fourth-string personnel, but what I saw from him in his demeanor pretty consistently was a sense of urgency.
I also saw in him a willingness to play his role, whether that meant running decoy routes or throwing a block. He’s not the biggest player on the field, and he’s not going to be the most able blocker, but the willingness is there, as seen on the 13-yard run in the third quarter by Daryl Richardson that Ayers was able to help create.
His first touch of the game came later in that same drive, toward the end of the third quarter, lining up outside in a 12 personnel look to the right. Motioning in before the snap, Richardson mimed receiving the handoff as Ayers got the ball sweeping around the edge. He looked quick, but also patient, working up the left sideline behind the block of his tight end.
Such a task is not unfamiliar to him, as Ayers was asked to perform a number of such plays, particularly in 2015, while in college. He carried the ball 26 times last year for 148 yards and a touchdown. But as his 98 receptions attest, he is most comfortable catching passes, and though he had just one for five yards, I liked what I saw.
It was a third and long play that fell four yards short of gaining first-down yardage, so for all practical purposes, it was a failed play. With due consideration for the fact that the throw was delivered somewhat haphazardly and late, I simply liked the way that he was able to bring the ball in with poise.
Finally, the rookie got one last touch doing what he was drafted to do, which was return punts. With just over two minutes left, he fielded the ball, a bit high-chested admittedly, at the 25-yard line, and gained only two yards of forward progress, but you can see the potential in his run with a better-set-up situation. He was able to beat the first defender and slide around the edge of another, but there was one defender too many for him to turn it into a decent return.
It was a small start with not a great deal to draw from, but Ayers showed in his first bit of action that he has the sort of skill set that the Steelers believed they were drafting, and that is a good place to build from, so I’m looking forward to seeing him in more action.