The Pittsburgh Steelers well underway with the offseason workouts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the heart of the offseason, where hope springs eternal following a few months of pretty significant changes, in terms of both departures and arrivals.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Which is more likely: two wide receivers with 1000-plus yards, or four with 500-plus yards?
The Steelers are entering an interesting year in which they are, by necessity, moving away from the superstar model of offense and potential gravitating toward a more distributive approach, both in the passing and running games.
This is a byproduct both of the departure of a pair of former All-Pros at both positions and the subsequent restocking of talent and the internal growth at those positions. So instead of Antonio Brown, you have Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, et al. Instead of Le’Veon Bell, you have the trio of James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and rookie Benny Snell, Jr.
Whether or not the touches out of the backfield will be more evenly distributed is a separate conversation, but what about at wide receiver? Will they have a true, legitimate number two wide receiver, and who will that be? Will that receiver top 1000 yards the way Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster did last year? It was the first time since 2011 that the Steelers had that.
If they don’t have a true number two, however, we could see a cast of characters coming in and out making their contributions. And that could all add up to nobody else having a spectacular season but producing several solid seasons that contributes to a strong offense.
For historical context, the Steelers most recently had three wide receivers top 500 yards in 2017 when Brown, Smith-Schuster, and Martavis Bryant did it. In fact, they more often than not have three such wide receivers over the past decade. They did once have four wide receivers reach 500 yards in 2006, with Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, and Cedrick Wilson.
The Steelers have had five seasons in their history, all in this century, in which two wide receivers have recorded 1000 or more yards in the same season, but have only once had four have 500, so statistically, the former is more likely. But in the context of this season, in this offense, I could potentially see the latter being more likely.