I know we have had a couple of articles over the course of the past two days on the topic, but I think that much deserves to be said about the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers are getting the sort of productivity that they are getting from the wide receiver position out of a pair of players who started the year on the practice squad.
Plus, if I’m being honest, I was really looking for an excuse to use the great shot that accompanies this article.
Cobi Hamilton was a sixth-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2013. He spent parts of his time over the next four years on the offseason rosters or practice squad rosters of the Bengals (twice), Eagles, Dolphins, and Panthers before the Steelers signed him off the street on August 5 to replace the injured Canaan Severin in training camp.
Though he was briefly on the Bengals’ 53-man roster at the end of the 2014 season, he never contributed in any way until the Steelers promoted him from their practice squad on October 15, in advance of their trip down to Miami.
The promotion of a wide receiver became necessary following the hand injury that Sammie Coates suffered the week prior. Markus Wheaton was also proving unable to play through a shoulder injury, and Eli Rogers was also just coming back from a foot injury.
Though he didn’t play much at first, he got time on the Steelers’ final drive in that game, catching two passes for 36 yards, one that converted a third down and the other being a 23-yard touchdown reception.
In 11 games, Hamilton has caught 17 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns, including the game-winner on Sunday in overtime against the Browns. Seven of those receptions converted on third down, while he converted another via a pass interference penalty. He was targeted 30 times, but did not drop any passes, according to our charting.
Then there is Demarcus Ayers, whom the Steelers drafted as a punt returner in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft. It quickly became apparent that there may be something to him beyond just being a punt returner, however, and though Hamilton was the first to get called up from the practice squad, it was obvious that the Steelers believed he could contribute.
In his NFL debut on the national stage on Christmas Day, he put his blocking on display, while also catching his first pass, and drawing a pass interference penalty. On Sunday, he caught four passes for 44 yards and scored an 11-yard touchdown on a crossing route, while drawing another penalty. He did drop one pass, and failed to drag his feet on what looked to be two other impressive catches, but he is showing quick progress.
With Wheaton on injured reserve and Coates still ailing, it’s quite reasonable to postulate that the practice squad call-ups of Hamilton and Ayers will have the opportunity to put their imprint on this postseason run as important role players.