It was an up and down year for Eli Rogers in what was essentially his first season. But there were probably enough ups for him to establish himself as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ slot receiver going forward barring something unforeseen.
He caught 48 passes for 594 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games during the regular season. He added 13 receptions for 112 yards in three playoff games. Seven of those catches for 66 yards came against the Patriots in the AFC Championship in a game that symbolized the highs and lows of his season.
He got things off on the right foot with a 16-yard reception that converted a third and 10 for his first target in the game. The Steelers were able to get away with a pick play with Jesse James running interference to free up Rogers for a catch-and-run off a crossing route.
It was two plays later when he caught a nine-yard pass to move the chains on second and nine. This time he did it on his own after getting the nickel back to bite on a false step inside before breaking to the sideline. Rogers then outran him to the chains.
It was still on the same drive when he came up with perhaps his most impressive grab of the game. He made an impressive stab at the ball away from his body after sliding through a pair of defenders even if it only amounted to an eight-yard gain on first and 10.
Things didn’t go as well in the second half. There was one target early in the third quarter on which pressure on the quarterback likely forced the delivery. Rogers tried to reach back behind the slot defender off a crossing route that he turned upfield but in the process just knocked the ball off his hand.
He did convert another third and long with a 19-yard gain later in the third quarter. This one appeared to be aided by a miscommunication in the secondary with the slot defender thinking that he had somebody to pass Rogers off to. A cleaner play here from both the quarterback and the wide receiver could have resulted in a big gain.
The lowlight of his performance was an obvious one. He caught a short pass to open a drive following a Patriots touchdown only to see the ball knocked out of his grasp by the linebacker in coverage. New England recovered the ball and quickly piled more dirt on top of the Steelers’ hopes of mounting a comeback.
Rogers is a very encouraging young wide receiver who has exhibited some excellent traits. There are some routes that he has run that show great nuance and contribute to the ability to deceive the cornerback. But he still has a lot of things to clean up in his overall game as well.