Devil’s Advocate: Taking A WR In The Draft

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Do the Steelers have enough talent on-hand to ignore the wide receiver position in the draft?

This has been an interesting and evolving discussion that has taken place over the course of, really, the past year. In spite of the fact that the Steelers have a group of wide receivers that have an enormous amount of potential, potentiality and actuality have proven to be very different things.

On the one hand, there is optimism about the reinstatement possibility of Martavis Bryant, who has in the past looked like a player who can legitimately be a number two option, if not a 1B. And Sammie Coates flashed quite a bit of potential in his first five games last season—actually, I should say productivity, and not potential, since he delivered on the stat sheet.

Eli Rogers had a promising, if a bit up-and-down, first full season in the NFL, looking like a legitimate slot option, which was a role that he has already carried out all year when healthy or not being disciplined. The addition of Justin Hunter, who has never played with a quarterback of the caliber he will see in Pittsburgh, already adds depth that was lost with Markus Wheaton.

And that’s all without mentioning the quality depth options in Cobi Hamilton, Demarcus Ayers, and Darrius Heyward-Bey—oh, and the best wide receiver in football, Antonio Brown, who gets quite a bit of the job done all by himself.

If everything works itself out in the positive direction that it very well can, then there’s really no reason for the team to be looking at wide receivers even in 2018, let alone in 2017. That is the optimistic approach, but the pessimist will remind that this group has already shown to skew somewhere other than an exclusively positive direction.

Regarding Bryant, even if we assume his reinstatement, which I believe is a safe one at this point, the reality is that he hasn’t played football, other than a pick-up game or something, in over a year. When Josh Gordon played in five games at the end of the 2014 season following a suspension, he didn’t look like the guy who was an All-Pro the year before.

Coates was still struggling to catch footballs with his mangled fingers months after the injury happened, and we still don’t have full clarity on whether or not he’s done anything about it since. And let’s be honest, he’s not going to keep up the deep-ball pace he had in five games last year anyway.

Rogers may be able to gain separation, but he struggles to do a great deal with the ball after the catch. He’s also had some fairly significant gaffes, and plays he failed to come up with. Dependability is the hallmark of the slot position, so perhaps that can be improved upon.

As for Hunter? If he provides anything, it will be a bonus. He has obvious fundamental issues in his game that has seen him already join his fourth different team in his young career. Outside of Brown, there are very legitimate question marks surrounding every receiver on this depth chart.

Adding a talented rookie wide receiver could help leverage against some of the uncertainty at a critical position on the roster that is absolutely essential to the Steelers’ championship aspirations, if we’re being honest about how much that depends on the prowess of their passing game. There are never too many good wide receivers on a roster.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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