Don’t look now, but the Pittsburgh Steelers may actually be stockpiling some encouraging young talent at several different positions. In many cases, we won’t even get another look at some of the players in question until next year due to injury, but things could shape up to make for an interesting offseason in 2019.
There are several positions on the roster—the 53, the practice squad, and injured reserve—that feature a growing nucleus of young players with the proverbial ‘upside’ that is so coveted, particularly by fans, at least until the upside guys become contributors and then they just become another player to hate.
I’m going to spend some time over the course of the next few days talking about each notable position individually, but today I wanted to start with the wide receiver position and the young core that is growing there behind perennial All-Pro Antonio Brown.
It is frankly too obvious at this point to talk about JuJu Smith-Schuster, and even James Washington, the rookie second-round pick who has yet to even play a snap. We know that the plan is for these three to make up the Steelers’ future at the position for at least the next three years. All of them are under contract for at least that long.
But there are some interesting names behind them, including the recent addition of Ryan Switzer, whom the Steelers have earmarked as their return man for this season after acquiring him via trade. But he is also a player who could develop an offensive role out of the slot, offering a different dimension than Smith-Schuster gives you there.
Then you have two names that are currently sitting on injured reserve in rookie Damoun Patterson and first-year Marcus Tucker. Both of them are former rookie minicamp tryout invitees who have scratched and clawed to get where they are at this point, and both have flashed potential in preseason games.
It’s possible that each of them ultimately reach an injury settlement with the Steelers and fall out of the organization this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the end. Malik Golden, for example, received an injury settlement a year ago but was brought back this season.
Then there are the two young wide receivers on the practice squad, Tevin Jones and Trey Griffey. Certainly neither of them are without their issues, and probably would have been choices three and four had Tucker and Patterson been healthy, but both of them have ability as well.
If the Steelers develop even one quality contributor out of this group that includes Switzer, Patterson, Tucker, Jones, and Griffey, then they set themselves up to be in good shape. They do have a good track record of developing the position and even getting production off the practice squad with players such as Cobi Hamilton, Demarcus Ayers, and even Tyler Murphy, though he was actually on the 53-man roster before moving to the practice squad. Side note: he was later promoted again in the 2015 season to be an emergency quarterback while Ben Roethlisberger was injured after Mike Vick got hurt.