We’ve discussed plenty the needs of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017. It’s the Jan Brady of draft needs: defense, defense, defense. And that’s obvious. Inside linebacker? Oh year. Safety? It’s near the top. Another pass rusher? Can never have enough of those. But one position we’re forgetting is special teams. Mainly because it is special teams, the most forgotten part of the game. Come the draft, the Steelers are going to need to take another returner. The loss of Eli Rogers will be felt more there than at receiver.
Danny Smith didn’t mince words in October. Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert do the grocery shopping for him. And they left him with rotten bananas and the half-empty box of cereal in the back of the pantry. He made it clear Pittsburgh has the fewest returners in the league.
“It just so happens in our makeup of our football team, we don’t have a lot of guys. We don’t have a lot of numbers at that position. We go out for pregame warmups with less returners than anybody in this league. We address it at different times. It’s the availability of guys. He (Antonio) and Eli are two guys who can do it.”
You can probably check Rogers off that list now. Him being healthy for the start of 2018 is slim and there’s a good chance the Steelers don’t bring him back anyway, given his ACL injury. That leaves the team with Antonio Brown and for years, they’ve done their best to get him off punts.
Rogers didn’t factor into kick returns but depth is nearly as thin there. JuJu Smith-Schuster could man one of those spots but as his playtime on offense increases, so will the team’s hesitation in putting him there. Expect Fitzgerald Toussaint to be in camp and in the mix but like Sammie Coates, Knile Davis, and roughly 700 other options the Steelers trotted out in Latrobe last year, could be axed at final cutdowns. You’re left with Martavis Bryant and…Cam Sutton? I guess?
Pittsburgh can’t let what happened last season occur again. Where they sent out Smith-Schuster and – *adjusts glasses* – Terrell Watson Week One. The two had a grand total of zero returns in the preseason but in Week One, when the games mattered, there they were. Two young guys trying to figure it out. It ended with predictable results. Terrible at first, only marginally better for most of the year, and when the continuity improved, end-of-season success, like JuJu’s touchdown in the finale.
But Watson is a New York Giant and who knows what they decide wide Bryant and Sutton. Not to mention depth because odds are, it will be needed at some point during the year. Bryant and Toussaint wound up in that role, a total of four players used during 2017.
Long story short. The Steelers better address the position with a Day Three pick in the draft. Who could be an option? That’s difficult to say this far out. I mentioned Braxton Berrios in my Senior Bowl mock draft. There’s also Washington’s Dante Pettis, another wide receiver. And cornerback Mike Hughes, though he is likely to go off the board long before the Steelers would be interested. The names aren’t too important right now. What is important is recognizing the need.
Tomlin and Colbert gotta stop making Smith cut coupons. Time to start bust out the checkbook and go shopping.