While it is not an incredibly rare thing, the Pittsburgh Steelers are already on pace this season to accomplish something notable on offense. If the year continues to progress as it has, they figure to have at least five players that will finish the year with at least 500 receiving yards.
While this is something that likely seemed absurd several decades ago, it is now a phenomenon that occurs about once or twice a year. Last season, for example, both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Washington Redskins were able to produce five players that accumulated 500 yards or more through the air.
The year before that, the Redskins once again accomplished the same feat, and the New England Patriots joined them. Yet the Buccaneers had just three such players in 2016, and the Patriots had only three last year.
As for the Steelers, the last time that they accomplished this was in 2014, which was Martavis Bryant’s surprise rookie season. After he spent the first six weeks on the bench, he quickly became a scoring machine and they had to continue to play him.
He scored eight touchdowns in the 10 games he played, averaging 21.1 yards per reception. He only caught 26 passes, but accumulated 549 yards on them. Antonio Brown had nearly 1700 yards that year, Le’Veon Bell 854—his career-high—Heath Miller 761, and Markus Wheaton rounding out the group with 644.
The current group of Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, Jesse James, and Vance McDonald are currently on pace to accomplish the same feat, which would mark just the second time in franchise history that the Steelers were able to do that.
Not that they haven’t come close often enough. They most recently had four players reach at least 500 yards just last season, when Brown, Smith-Schuster, Bryant, and Bell all hit the mark. It was Brown, Bryant, Miller, and Wheaton in 2015, and then Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, and Miller in 2013.
Since Ben Roethlisberger has been here, the team has had four or more players reach 500 receiving yards in the same season eight times, the first occurrence being in 2006. Last year, James finished 128 yards shy of 500 to be the fifth. The year before that, DeAngelo Williams fell 133 yards short, but he and Bell combined (the year Bell was injured) would have more than qualified as the fifth.
This year, Smith-Schuster already has 561 receiving yards. Brown should hit 500 today, sitting at 478. Both James and McDonald have 274 exactly, averaging more than 45 yards per game and on pace for over 700. Conner at 257 is on pace for 685 yards.