Slot Work Coming For Martavis Bryant, But Production Awaits

Wide receiver Martavis Bryant is now four game into the resumption of his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It could have gone better so far, but it certainly could have gone a lot worse, as well. He has 10 receptions on the season for 183 yards with one touchdown, averaging over 18 yards per reception.

His one ‘breakout’ performance of the season so far came a few weeks ago in the Steelers’ home opener—and so far their only home game—against the Vikings, during which he caught three passes for 91 yards and his lone touchdown, which came on a 27-yard slant. He also caught a 51-yard pass and drew a 49-yard pass interference call.

It is taking time, seemingly, to get him fully back into the rhythm of playing in the NFL, but that is not surprising for somebody who spent a year out of football, and there is no reason to believe that there are not better things in store for him over the course of the next 12 games.

What I do want to make note of is, well, actually, two things. As has been the case throughout his career, he is still not playing full games’ worth of snaps. To date, he has only played 184 of the Steelers’ 263 offensive snaps, or a hair under 70 percent of the action. That was about the norm for him prior to his suspension. JuJu Smith-Schuster has played more snaps than he has over the past two weeks.

But within those snaps, he has also become a more versatile player by expanding his role into more slot experience, which will likely only increase now that Smith-Schuster has become the primary third receiver, since he lines up frequently both outside and inside.

During the 2015 season, Bryant only saw 67 snaps in the slot, which was not much over 10 percent of his total snaps on the year. This season, he has already accounted for 32 snaps lined up inside, which, out of his 184 snaps, is a 17.4 percent ratio.

That might not seem like a tremendous difference, but it is over the course of a full season. And using a 6’4”, 210-ish-pound wide receiver with Bryant’s long speed out of the slot can certain create some matchup issues.

It has not, however, to date. Unfortunately, his production out of the slot has actually been rather poor, failing to catch any of his three targets. One was a drop, and another was intercepted. He did have one carry on an end-around from that position, gaining seven yards.

It might be worth noting that his most prevalent work in the slot came just on Sunday, when he saw 14 snaps there. He also saw 10 snaps there in the opener, all of which also featured Smith-Schuster. Utilizing Bryant out of the slot seems to me to have a lot of potential for success, which I hope to monitor going forward.

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