The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.
The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.
How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?
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: How many wide receivers will the Steelers keep this year?
It’s been a while since the Steelers have kept fewer than six wide receivers, with guys like Justin Hunter and Johnny Holton and Darrius Heyward-Bey manning the bottom of the roster. They seemed to flirt with going down to five last year before promoting Holton to the 53-man roster shortly before the season opener.
They released Holton earlier this offseason, however, which means there is no clear, obvious number six guy as the dedicated special teamer. One of the reasons they’ve had six for so long is because of Heyward-Bey, who spent a number of years on the roster. The obvious implication is that they could more comfortably carry only five without that special teams component.
There are four wide receivers whom we know are obvious locks: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and the rookie, Chase Claypool. Beyond them, there are no players who appear to be a shoe-in to make it, but the strongest candidates in terms of likelihood of making the team would be Ryan Switzer and Deon Cain, the two other receivers who actually played last year.
Then there’s Amara Darboh, who ended the year on the 53, and Quadree Henderson, who was on the practice squad. There’s this guy and that guy. Plenty of futures-level options, and the majority of them being tall prospects. Guys who, frankly, could be kept on the practice squad and called up if needed, rather than taking up a spot on the roster.