The facts, as well as the opinions, are a bit all over the map when it comes to the situation surrounding Martavis Bryant, the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver in his third season with the team after sitting out 2016 because of a suspension.
Ian Rapoport reported that he told the team weeks ago that he wanted to be traded and that he wasn’t happy with his role on the team. While it would not shock me if that were true, he has not given that indication any anybody publicly, but even Jeremy Fowler noted that he had heard Bryant was at least unhappy with his role.
Does he have a case? On a fairness level, many no doubt would argue that he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. After all, the Steelers stuck by Bryant through a lot of issues, and even immediately plugged him back into the starting lineup when he was finally reinstated. He didn’t even have to earn the role.
And he looked like a dominant player in practice, but then again, so did Justin Hunter. That’s what tall, fast players do, but playing in games is different, and Bryant hasn’t been that difference-maker.
Except for the second game of the season, when he had 91 yards on three catches and a touchdown, and 49 yards gained on a pass interference call. He hasn’t yet sniffed that same level, but it hasn’t all been his fault. Ben Roethlisberger missed him on a deep touchdown a few weeks ago, for example.
He has made some tough and impressive catches. But he has also dropped or failed to hold onto others. Coming into yesterday’s game, he had 28 official targets over the course of the first five games, netting just 15 receptions for 204 yards, averaging 7.3 yards per target.
Compare that to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has effectively become the Steelers’ second wide receiver for the past four weeks, outsnapping Bryant each week since then. Entering yesterday’s game, the rookie had been targeted 21 times, picking up 160 yards, an average of 7.6 yards per target. And that includes a four-yard touchdown reception.
Both of them had just three targets apiece yesterday, Smith-Schuster catching all three of his for 32 yards, highlighted by a 15-yard gain on third and seven. Bryant caught two of his targets for 20 yards, with a long of 20 yards on a catch-and-run from a slant route.
While neither is running away from the other in terms of productivity numbers, the 20-year-old rookie has shown to be the more valuable of the two because of the diversity of roles that he can fulfill, equally comfortably in the slot and outside, and showing the ability to create after the catch and on third down.
Add in his active role in the blocking game, both on running plays and screens, and it’s no surprise that Smith-Schuster has been more snaps over the past four weeks. He offers more on a per-snap basis, based on current results.
I don’t know if Bryant is really mad about his situation—again, he really has said all the right things in recent months publicly—but while it’s true that he has been used a bit less, his on-field results haven’t given the team cause to up his playing time either, while Smith-Schuster has done nothing to diminish his role.