When the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field on Sunday, we will be seeing a matchup comparison between one at the top of the profession and one looking to get there. I’m not talking about the teams, though. I’m talking about the reigning Super Bowl MVP, wide receiver Julius Edelman, and the role that he has played in recent years to expanding the knowledge of what the slot receiver can bring to today’s game.
That means a lot to a player like Ryan Switzer, who has been watching intently all along, and he hasn’t been shy about talking about it throughout the offseason. He’s referenced the expansion of the slot receiver role in a number of interviews he’s given this offseason, and now he’ll be going against one of those slot stars he hopes to be able to duplicate.
“Obviously, he’s kind of at the pinnacle of the slot receiver position”, he told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review yesterday as they prepare for Sunday’s game. “I’d certainly like to emulate some of the things he’s done with kind of my unique style. He has set the bar really high for slot receivers”.
Switzer was originally drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but he was almost entirely limited to being used as a returner during his rookie season. Early in the offseason of 2018, he was traded to the Oakland Raiders for former third-round defensive lineman Jihad Ward, and the Raiders then subsequently traded him to the Steelers for a swap of mid-round draft picks.
In spite of the fact that he was acquired only shortly before the season began, however, he managed to find a role, not just as the return man, but as a meaningful component of the offense as well. He caught 36 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown last season, which is second-most among all of the wide receivers from 2018 who remain on the roster.
The fact that he was brought in so late hindered the Steelers’ ability to work him more fully into the offense, so he was often limited to targets on short patterns, often those plays that you will hear referred to as an extension of the run game.
When they chose to carry him as one of only five wide receivers this year, however, opting for him over Eli Rogers, it’s clearly because they envision him as somebody who is capable of doing much more than that. And his first opportunity to prove them right comes against arguably the team that most helped to redefine expectations for the slot receiver in the modern NFL, Edelman one of the key figures in that conversation after Wes Welker.