The Pittsburgh Steelers finally saw fit to give third-year wide receiver Eli Rogers a helmet again after being a healthy scratch for the past two weeks, but he may as well not have even been out there. The slot receiver played just 13 of 64 official offensive snaps and was not targeted on any of them.
That is the second time in as many games in which he has played that the Louisville product was not even targeted. After catching six passes on 11 targets over the course of the first two weeks of the season for 54 yards, he has not seen a pass come his way since.
We have to bear in mind, of course, that the Steelers came into the game against the Chiefs with a gameplan that emphasized running the ball, particularly when Kansas City’s defense gave them an opportune matchup. That including even on second- and third-and-long plays.
For comparison, Le’Veon Bell on his own carried the ball 32 times. James Conner and Terrell Watson earned three more carries, bringing the total number of runs up to 35 for the game. Ben Roethlisberger only attempted 25, and only dropped back 26 times.
In a game in which the pass might be more emphasized, Rogers might see a higher percentage of snaps, and perhaps even a target or two, even if he has clearly fallen to, at best, the fourth option among wide receivers, and perhaps the fifth option frequently enough whenever he is on the field.
During his first full season in the NFL a year ago, he caught 48 passes on 66 targets for a catch percentage of nearly 73, gaining nearly 600 yards with three touchdowns, which is fine work for a season in which he missed about a quarter of the playing time due to injuries and disciplinary reasons.
Prior to Sunday’s game, however, he found himself sitting on the bench in favor of Justin Hunter, a fifth-year former second-round draft pick whom the Steelers signed in free agency. Hunter did little in his admittedly sparse opportunities, though he was at least targeted.
It is notable that though Rogers was given the helmet, he did not resume his role as the punt returner, which seemed to be the catalyst for his initial benching after he muffed a punt against the Bears in week three that was recovered by Chicago, leading to an early touchdown drive.
I do not think it is clear what the future holds for the 5’10” wide receiver this season, nor do I think the coaching staff knows. It could indeed become a weekly battle between Rogers and Hunter for a helmet on game day depending on the week of practice and the matchup against the next opponent.