One of the biggest questions the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking at on the offensive side of the ball is who their third wide receiver is going to be, working alongside Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, the latter of whom was immediately put into work with the first-team unit after returning from suspension.
While the Steelers spent the majority of their offensive snaps with three wide receivers on the field, they don’t use as many three-receiver sets as become the norm—at least that proved to be the case last season, which could be an aberration due to injuries and the late-season focus on running the ball.
But with that in mind, I think it would be a worthwhile service to look at the Steelers’ wide receiver group from last season relative to how they performed, specifically, when lining up in the slot in passing situations, because, generally speaking, the third wide receiver is probably going to spend the vast majority of time in that role.
Over the course of the next several days, I am going to review the application for each candidate for the job based on their 2016 performance there where applicable—which will not be the case for rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster for obvious reasons, while at the same time serving the purpose of talking about each player relative to their ability to play in the slot.
Candidate 2: Sammie Coates
There is not a lot to say about the performance of former third-round wide receiver Sammie Coates as a slot receiver. Why? Because he has hardly done it. On passing downs during the 2016 season, over 197 such snaps, he was aligned in the slot for just 17 snaps, or nine percent of his workload. Only Demarcus Ayers and Cobi Hamilton logged as little or less time in the slot by percentage.
Out of 324 total snaps, he did see 35 total snaps in the slot, which includes running plays, so he did see slightly more time in the slot comprehensively than when focusing exclusively on passing downs, and it should go without saying that that is important in any context.
As a receiver, he did see a few targets—three, specifically—and he caught two of them, with the third an on-target pass that he dropped. The two he caught went for 53 yards combined, with one of them being a 44-yarder against the Bengals in Week Two.
The majority of his snaps in the slot, interesting enough, came in third-down situations when they threw the ball, and they were largely unsuccessful on those snaps. In almost all such cases, it was out of 11 personnel with Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers as the outside receivers.
Earlier in the year, he was also used in the slot some with Brown and Markus Wheaton when he was made available, with a smattering of contributions from Darrius Heyward-Bey, whom I will be discussing tomorrow as the player who saw the highest percentage of snaps in the slot other than Rogers.