We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 15 primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed a number of them, those being Ramon Foster, Tyson Alualu, Anthony Chickillo, Daniel McCullers, and Jordan Berry. Significant unrestricted free agents who signed elsewhere were Le’Veon Bell, Jesse James, and L.J. Fort. They re-signed seven exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler, and Xavier Grimble, as they await Mike Hilton’s signing.
Also of note were the release of Morgan Burnett, the trades of Antonio Brown and Marcus Gilbert, and three significant signings in free agency, adding starters at cornerback, inside linebacker, and potentially wide receiver in Steven Nelson, Mark Barron, and Donte Moncrief, respectively. Maurkice Pouncey also received a two-year contract extension.
Position: Wide Receiver
Total Positional Figure: 9
Offseason Additions: 3
Offseason Deletions: 3
JuJu Smith-Schuster: ‘The Man’ now, at age 22. Smith-Schuster has to be the top target for the Steelers now with Brown gone. He made the Pro Bowl last year, but can he make those fine adjustments that will assure that he continues to ascend?
James Washington: After a disappointing season, Washington will be fighting for a starting role in year two. He admitted that it was a struggle in many ways, but that’s not uncommon for a rookie. All players develop on different schedules. I’m not worried about him just yet.
Ryan Switzer: A late addition via trade, Switzer became an important part of the offense, actually the third-leading receiver overall. He’ll likely be fighting for the number four role this year.
Eli Rogers: Rogers is probably the most vulnerable of the group but still a player the team likes a lot. He is good at getting separation in shallow spaces with his route running and that will be key.
Trey Griffey: The 6’3” receiver’s 2018 preseason was a bit more consistent but less productive. He caught four passes over three games for 44 yards. He was signed to the practice squad and also stuck all season.
Tevin Jones: A 2018 futures signing, the 6’2” Jones solidified his spot on the practice squad with three catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason finale during his third NFL offseason. He stayed on the squad all year.
Donte Moncrief: One of the Steelers’ three free agent signings, the veteran Moncrief will compete with Washington to start opposite Smith-Schuster. While he hasn’t put up huge numbers over the course of his career, it will be interesting to see what he does with Ben Roethlisberger.
Ka’Raun White: Signed as a futures player at the start of January, White comes from a football family but spent his rookie year bouncing around teams and was not on a practice squad.
Diontae Spencer: Another early January futures signing, Spencer is a 5’7” return specialist from the CFL. As you might guess, he has great speed, which he needs at 173 pounds. He originally came out in the 2014 NFL Draft but spent the next four years in Canada.
Antonio Brown: Really thought a year ago that he would be a Steeler for life. While I was skeptical of him, I admit he had me fooled along with most everybody else. Regardless of everything else, however, his loss will be felt on the field without question.
Justin Hunter: After spending two years mostly on the inactive list, it seems like the Steelers are finally ready to move on from the tall underachiever. They already have five wide receivers on the roster, so he would just look to be a healthy scratch again at this point.
Darrius Heyward-Bey: The special teams standout may have reached the end of the road with the Steelers, as he hasn’t been re-signed yet, and given that it hasn’t occurred by now, it probably won’t at all.
Notes And Draft Outlook: The position is obviously in play in the draft, but I don’t believe a high-end prospect is a high priority. They don’t need to be targeting a wide receiver in the first round or anything, though if the board simply breaks that way they shouldn’t necessarily pass on the opportunity. Smith-Schuster is the only surefire thing that they have right now.