Almost every wide receiver on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster has something to them – something that distinguishes them from the pack and makes them unique.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is the prince of Pittsburgh with a chance to become king this season after the departure of Antonio Brown. James Washington is the quiet sophomore who many are expecting to break out in his second season. Ryan Switzer is the fun, lovable slot receiver with return game ability and Diontae Johnson is the young rookie who many are dying to see due to his route running ability.
One of the bigger unknowns to this year’s wide receiving group is perhaps the role in which one of their newest arrivals will play. Donte Moncrief, a free agent signing from the Jacksonville Jaguars is expected to help ease the loss of Brown but just who is he?
Moncrief has been billed up to be a credible vertical threat, though that aspect of his game was incredibly limited last season with the Jaguars, though to no fault of his own. After going back and tracking all 89 targets that came his way last season, a few conclusions can be made about the wide receiver.
Moncrief certainly ran his fair share of vertical routes.
The ball often fell not in Moncrief’s hands but yards away on many of his vertical routes.
Cody Kessler and Blake Bortles threw 20 passes to Moncrief that travelled at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage last season. Out of those 20 just five were completed. On throws that travelled 30 yards past the line of scrimmage, the quarterbacks combined to go 0/8 when targeting Moncrief. Not only did the Jaguars’ quarterbacks fail to connect with their deep threat wide receiver last season, on most occasions the passes were almost uncatchable.
It should start to make sense now why Moncrief spoke volumes to Ben Roethlisberger’s talent as a major reason for why he chose to sign with the Steelers this offseason. There is good evidence to support the theory that the 25-year old wide receiver can rediscover his deep ball mojo after transitioning from the likes of Kessler and Bortles to Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger has been one of the NFL’s most feared deep ball quarterbacks since his arrival in the league fifteen years ago. According to Roto Underworld, no quarterback has thrown more deep passes than Roethlisberger over the last two seasons, which means that Moncrief will certainly get his fair shot at being the team’s new deep threat. He will also get the chance to cash in on all those deep balls as the Steelers’ quarterback threw 15 deep pass touchdowns last season, tied for the most in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
So, the Steelers’ quarterback loves to throw the deep ball but is he accurate? Thanks to our own charting, I went back and looked at every Roethlisberger pass that travelled more than 20-yards past the line of scrimmage last season.
Roethlisberger attempted a whopping 82 pass attempts that went 20 yards past the line of scrimmage and completed 26 of them, good for a 31.7 completion percentage.
Moncrief was not allowed to do what he does best last season as his quarterbacks severely limited his vertical ability but a move to Pittsburgh should help the veteran receiver reclaim his deep ball identity in the Steelers’ receiving room.
The Steelers have their alpha in Smith-Schuster and a handful of other underneath options in the receiving room. And now by linking up Moncrief with one of the NFL’s better deep ball passers in Roethlisberger, the team will get their vertical threat as well.