After covering the rookie season review for Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver Demarcus Ayers, I got to thinking about how the team’s roster will shape up in 2017 at the position. There may be only one true unquestionable roster lock right now in the form of Antonio Brown, but there will be a number of talented players there at the end of the summer.
Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers are likely to make it back onto the roster with relative ease, in spite of the surprising number of people who seem to be ready to move on from the former, a third-round draft pick in 2015 who had over 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns in five games to start his second season.
If Martavis Bryant is reinstated, which seems likely, he will be another roster lock. If we add those up, we already get four wide receivers making the roster. Add in free agent Justin Hunter—the Steelers’ free agent signings basically always make the roster, and a large portion of them are of the one-year minimum salary variety—and we get five.
And we haven’t even mentioned Ayers yet. Or Cobi Hamilton. Or, most concerning, to me, Darrius Heyward-Bey. See, Heyward-Bey might be somebody who gets routinely overlooked in terms of what he contributes to the team as a wide receiver on a week-to-week basis, but I happen to believe that he plays a crucial role in the dynamic of that wide receivers meeting room.
And that role that he plays will be especially important with Bryant returning as somebody who may need a watchful eye over him. Brown may be making $17 million per season now, but he will probably acknowledge on his own that he is not exactly the bastion of maturity. The reality is that the source of veteran leadership among wide receivers actually comes from Heyward-Bey.
And the reality is that Heyward-Bey had already taken Bryant under his wing by his rookie season. That is something that I wrote about back in the summer of 2015. The young wide receiver talked about his development over the course of the 2015 offseason and credited the veteran for teaching him what to do and how to take care of himself.
While that mentorship role, at least based on the information that they provided, seem to focus mainly on the professional realm, we are obviously dealing with a wide receivers room that needs veteran leadership in off-the-field matters as well.
When even your top receiver is a discipline issue, you need at least one other player in that room who is a leader, and Heyward-Bey has served in that function. Coates is going into his third year, as is Rogers. Bryant has only played two seasons. Ayers is young. Hamilton is young. Hunter is young and he hasn’t even been here.
There are a lot of young minds, several of whom have had maturity issues, including Rogers, who was benched for a game last season. They need nurturing. And because of that alone, but for other reasons as well, there may have to be a roster spot for Heyward-Bey.