Much has been made over the course of the past few days of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant and the opportunity that lays at his feet heading into tonight’s home game at Heinz Field in host of the Green Bay Packers. With JuJu Smith-Schuster missing this contest due to a hamstring injury, expectations have mounted for him to play a big role in the game.
But far less has been made about the fact that another wide receiver, Eli Rogers, may proportionally being given an even greater opportunity here. The third-year receiver, who was their primary target out of the slot just a season ago, has been largely an afterthought this season, as Smith-Schuster has absorbed the bulk of his snaps in the slot.
A former undrafted free agent, Rogers was the team’s opening-day slot receiver in 2016, his first year on the 53-man roster, and remained in that role for what works out to be about 12 and a half games, missing two and a half with an injury and another game in which he was kept on the bench as a disciplinary action.
He received 66 targets that season, catching 48 of them for a very high catch rate of about 73 percent, picking up 594 yards and three touchdowns. This season, he has only gotten 15 official targets in eight games active, fewer than two per game, though he did have a 16th that drew a penalty.
A whopping 11 of those targets all came within the first two games of the season, before Smith-Schuster had established himself as a regular, consistent presence on the offense. Still, in those 11 targets he caught just six passes for 54 yards. His rapport with Ben Roethlisberger was clearly off.
After seeing no targets the following week, during which he muffed a punt and lost his return job, he spent the next two games on the bench. He did not see another pass until week seven. He caught one of two targets for 10 yards, the other being wide of the mark.
But then against Detroit, in the game where Bryant sat, he dropped a golden opportunity, which should have been a touchdown, on his lone official target. He had another target later in the game that drew a penalty on third down.
He since has been targeted once, picking up two yards on a short pass on third and two. In spite of the fact that he started the Titans game and played a couple dozen snaps, he was not even targeted. He has failed to see a target in three of the eight games he has played.
I would expect that to change tonight against the Packers. Now, granted, I could be wrong. He could have zero catches on zero targets. But he could also go six-for-six for 78 yards and a touchdown. Personally, I would love to see him being used, and being effective, in the offense against the Packers.