Earth to Eli Rogers. For most of the season, there hasn’t been a response.
After a solid 2016, this year has been church-mouse quiet for Rogers. JuJu Smith-Schuster easily passed him up, and is now doing laps around him, and issues on punt returners led to a benching that got him almost entirely uninvolved with the team.
We said it before when Smith-Schuster missed with an injury, sitting out against the Green Bay Packers. This might be Rogers last time to shine. Instead, Rogers struggled, catching three balls on seven targets for 21 yards.
But Smith-Schuster’s suspension gives Rogers a second – potentially last – chance. His production has been on a “just a guy” level but we’ve seen pockets of his talent. Of his route running; Ben Roethlisberger still calls him one of the best weapons they have to beat man coverage. Rogers has progressed to be more effective after the catch and his blocking, though usually the undersized man in the battle, has been impressive.
Ultimately though, none of that matters without production. Of which there’s been little. 12 catches on 24 targets with a long of 16. He’s your nephew learning to play the guitar the first time. There’s soul, there’s effort, but the output is still a bunch of noise.
Maybe he gets back his gig on punt returners. He filled in for Antonio Brown last week and looked competent. Though Brown says he’s feeling better, he’s probably not 100%, and the team would be wise to exercise some extra level of caution with him.
But it’ll also come at receiver. Todd Haley mentioned Rogers’ name first when asked about who has to step up with Smith-Schuster gone for the week. The leash though, you would think, has to be short. It’s tougher and tougher to justify playing Rogers in the slot over say, Darrius Heyward-Bey. DHB is the better vertical threat, better blocker, and honestly might have better hands (or at least, a bigger catch radius). The Steelers have given him every opportunity to be next man up. Others have succeeded. Chris Hubbard for Marcus Gilbert. Tyson Alualu for Stephon Tuitt. Rogers has to join them.
He has to be that guy. No one is demanding a 10 catch, 100 yard performance. But he has to win on third downs, shake man coverage, and avoid the drops that have caused the Steelers to sour on him.
I’ve been a Rogers supporter. He caught my eye as a completely unknown UDFA out of Louisville. But he’s regressed, even acknowledging the chances have been reduced. Frustrating for him more than anyone else, I’m sure. A year ago, he made one of the catches of the season, extending full out to make this grab that allowed Brown to stretch over the goal line.
This year is a perfect time for a similar play.