It’s all well and good to say that Pittsburgh Steelers third-year wide receiver Sammie Coates is a player who puts in the work and gives maximum effort on the field. On offense, he has also demonstrated the ability to contribute in the blocking game, something that has been noticeable this preseason. On special teams, he has been developing as a pretty good gunner and jammer.
But, ultimately, the bottom line is that he didn’t really do much to earn a roster spot during the preseason. I think that is something that needs to be said, and that is equally true whether he does or does not make the 53-man roster.
During the three preseason games in which he was healthy, the former third-round draft choice caught just four passes for a combined 21 yards. He failed to catch a pass during Thursday’s preseason finale despite logging a significant amount of playing time, and had just one catch for one yards in the third preseason game, again with a lot of work.
Now, he was not frequently targeted, and as had been the norm, a lot of his targets were on low-percentage throws, but there were a couple of passes that he could have had, even if they were not explicitly drops.
Simply put, Coates is not a player who has to make the team. Really, there are only four wide receivers who have to make the team, and their names are Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Whoever else makes it can be mixed and matched.
He did get a boost yesterday with word coming down that the Steelers intend to officially release veteran running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Knile Davis, between the two of whom whoever made the roster was likely to take one of two spots in the kick return game.
Coates spent a good amount of time returning kicks last year, though his hand injury hampered him, and for some reason the Steelers used a split backfield with him and Toussaint, which prompted almost all kickers to just kick it directly at Toussaint. But the Steelers don’t have a bunch of kick return candidates with them gone, period, so that is a boost for him.
Chances are at this point that Darrius Heyward-Bey is going to make the team. Mike Tomlin has praised him enough to make it clear what the coaches think of what he brings to the team. But there is no guarantee that there will even be a sixth spot for a wide receiver.
It could go to nobody. Or to Coates. Or to Justin Hunter. Or to Demarcus Ayers. Or even to Marcus Tucker, who had a better night than any other receivers on Thursday.
Things would have been a lot simpler had Coates simply made a couple of plays during the preseason, but he didn’t so here we are on cut-down day with a lot more uncertainty than need be. Could they even consider seven wide receivers? It’s completely unnecessary, but possible.