The Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted 13 wide receivers since 2007 under Head Coach Mike Tomlin. Given the recent success that the Steelers have had with rookie wide receivers (namely, JuJu Smith-Schuster a year ago) and their intention to rely upon another rookie in 2018, I thought it would be a worthy endeavor to look back at the success that past rookies have had in this role with the team.
Dallas Baker (7th round, 2007): Could not make the 53-man roster during his rookie season. Baker was on the practice squad that year but did make the team in 2008, as the number five receiver. He played in eight games but caught just one pass for six yards and did not make the team the following year.
Limas Sweed (2nd round, 2008): Perhaps the biggest ‘bust’ of the Tomlin era, Sweed had all the talent but could never put it together on the field. As a rookie in 2008, he played in 11 games but had just six receptions for 64 yards. He had just one catch for five yards the following year as well and never played in the regular season after that. He was playing behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, and could not pass Nate Washington for the number three role.
Mike Wallace (3rd round, 2009): One of the most successful rookie seasons for a wide receiver in Pittsburgh in recent years, Wallace was able to take over the number three role with Washington leaving in free agency after the 2008 season, bypassing Sweed on the depth chart. He proved to be a functional deep threat, catching 39 passes for 756 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 19.4 yards per catch, though he only started four games.
Emmanuel Sanders (3rd round, 2010): After the Steelers traded Holmes, they added two wide receivers in the draft, with the third-round pick getting the first opportunity to take over the number three role. Sanders had some injury issues as a rookie but still turned in 28 receptions for 376 yards and two touchdowns. He split time with Antwaan Randle El as the number three.
Antonio Brown (6th round, 2010): Once a longshot, we know what Brown has become since, but he caught just six passes for 167 yards his rookie season, even if that year included a kick return touchdown on the first snap of his first NFL game.
Toney Clemons (7th round, 2012): He did not make the roster during his first season, but spent some time on the practice squad, where he ended up being claimed by the Jaguars. He caught three passes for 41 yards for them.
Markus Wheaton (3rd round, 2013): Playing behind Brown, Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery, Wheaton didn’t have a place for himself during his rookie year, and would have just six catches for 64 yards. He also injured his finger. He would have his best season two years later with 749 yards and five touchdowns, but has been plagued with injuries since.
Justin Brown (6th round, 2013): Brown spent his rookie season on the practice squad, but made the team the following year and saw some time as the number three, catching 12 passes for 94 yards before he was released and not added to the practice squad.
Dri Archer (3rd round, 2014): Not a true wide receiver, of course, but worthy of documenting, Archer didn’t see many snaps but did catch seven passes for a meager 23 yards.
Martavis Bryant (4th round, 2014): After spending his first six games inactive, Bryant tore through the rest of his rookie season, catching 26 passes for 549 yards and eight touchdowns. He and Wheaton split time as the number two receiver.
Sammie Coates (3rd round, 2015): The insurance policy for Bryant, Coates had just one catch for 11 yards in year one, though he had a couple of 20-plus-yarders in the postseason. He got off to a tear to start off his second season but quickly fell off after injuring his hand.
Demarcus Ayers (7th round, 2016): Ayers spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad even with the likes of Cobi Hamilton playing ahead of him. He did get called up late and caught six passes for 53 yards and a touchdown, but he didn’t make the team last year.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (2nd round, 2017): Arguably the best rookie season for a wide receiver in team history, Smith-Schuster immediately rotated in as the number three and eventually would take over a starting job. In 14 games, he caught 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns.