Eli Rogers wasn’t drafted, but he did come in with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2015 class of draft picks as an undrafted free agent. A shifty wide receiver on the short side of the spectrum, the Louisville product was probably not thought of all that much at first, but that seemed to change pretty quickly once quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got a good look at him during his rookie spring.
Roethlisberger liked what he saw and thought that Rogers could be a contributor for the offense at some point. The rookie even got the opportunity to get some work in with the first-team offense during training camp, but it wasn’t long after that that he suffered a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve.
The injury happened before Rogers could even get into a preseason game, so it was pretty early on in the process. It was difficult for the young wide receiver to know what to think. About what his coaches thought about him. About his future with the team. About the game itself.
That is why it was so important for him to be able to come in and contribute this past season, which is something that he more than accomplished. He had his ups and downs on the field and off of it, the latter consisting of an ankle injury and a discipline issue, but he made good on the potential that Roethlisberger saw in him the spring prior to the 2015 season. And it made a big difference to him.
“When you are contributing you feel your worth, your value, why you are here”, he told Teresa Varley for the team’s website while reflecting on the differences between being able to contribute in 2016 versus sitting on injured reserve before even establishing himself as a rookie.
“When you are on injured reserve, you feel different, like, I am injured, I have to go through this. You think coaches might think a certain way about you. You can’t playing, you aren’t getting that experience. You are always going to learn. You have to. But not getting those repetitions. Not being out there with the team, that was tough”.
An injury for a fringe player on a roster is most often a death sentence. They might go on injured reserve, but the majority of them work out settlements with the team to be waived and paid for their recovery time.
The Steelers and Roethlisberger saw something in Rogers’ future, however, that led them to keep him around the entire time and keep him engaged with the team, keep him around his teammates and coaches and learning, even if he couldn’t be on the field.
That process during his rookie season, even though he was unable to play, was likely a big reason why he was able to contribute in the fashion that he had in 2016, starting from the season opener all the way through the playoffs—even if it didn’t end on the note he would have wanted, losing the first fumble of his career.