Ben Roethlisberger has always been fond of tall wide receivers. It was a relationship that began in his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers when he had Plaxico Burress to throw to for one season. But he has since spent the majority of his career without such comparable options.
Fast forward all the way to 2017, and he has more tall receivers than he even knows what to do with. Excluding Reserve/Future players, the list of wide receivers who are 6’1” or taller currently on the roster consists of Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Cobi Hamilton, and Justin Hunter.
Of course, it would be virtually impossible for all of them to make the 53-man roster come September, but suffice it to say that Roethlisberger is going to have a number of tall receiving options to choose from, and one of them, at least, told Gerry Dulac recently that he believes his quarterback is very pleased.
That would be Heyward-Bey, who said that he also believes that sort of size this season, which they lacked a year ago, is going to make a difference in what and how they execute inside the red zone. Remember, last season, Bryant was suspended, Coates was essentially a non-factor after five games, Hunter was in Buffalo, Smith-Schuster was in college, Heyward-Bey was a role player who was injured half the season, and Hamilton was contributing despite joining the team in training camp after having never played in a meaningful game before.
As for Heyward-Bey, however, he said that the number of tall options “gives [Roethlisberger] and us the opportunity in the red zone, in the red area, to go up high”, and he notes that “we haven’t been a big fade team”.
He told Dulac that he believes having Bryant back, Coates healthy, and the others in the mix “gives us the opportunity” to better exploit the fade option with tall targets, adding, “I think that’s what Ben likes”.
Much has been made about the Steelers’ performance in the red zone, which frequently shows a stark home-road contrast. This is an area in which having those tall options could help make a difference, at least on paper, but of course actually accomplishing it in the real world is always a greater obstacle than addressing an issue on paper.
It may still be, however, that when the Steelers open the regular season, two of their top three wide receivers are going to be shorter than six feet tall, those being Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers, who were the top two producers at the position last season.
The team is one that likes to mix and match its wide receivers pretty frequently though, and they didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of that much last season due to all the injuries. I would expect greater diversity in wide receiver personnel in 2017, in part as an effort to get a taller presence on the field in appropriate situations.