The Pittsburgh Steelers have invested as much in the wide receiver position is perhaps any other team in the league over the course of the past four years, spending four day-two picks there over that time, including three second-rounders and a very early third-round pick. You can throw in Donte Moncrief as a free agent signing, as well, even though it didn’t work out.
Despite all that, Pro Football Focus didn’t see fit to include the team’s wide receiver group any higher than 23rd in its latest league-wide rankings at the position. That really feels incredibly low, considering the pedigree and the presence of a Pro Bowler, but Steve Palazzolo argues that “they still have more question marks than most receiving units around the league”.
Led of course by JuJu Smith-Schuster, he notes the obvious of his down season in 2019, and that the post-Antonio Brown questions that surrounded him entering last season still remain. However, he also argues that the 23-year-old “has shown all the necessary skills” to succeed, noting both his catch rate on contested plays and his yards after the catch.
As for James Washington, he has a lot to prove entering his third season, and working with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges only gave him so many opportunities to grow in 2019. Palazzolo writes that he “showed off some of the downfield skills that once made him a second-round pick, and that’s a much-needed skill set in this offense”.
Of course, Diontae Johnson has been a favorite of the site since before he was drafted, not the least of which reason being the pre-draft Antonio Brown comparisons. He writes of Johnson that he “has the skills to be a high-volume target for [Ben] Roethlisberger, emphasizing that he was open on 70.2 percent of his routes against which he saw single coverage, ninth-best in the league.
Added to the group was Chase Claypool, the 49th-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, a 6’4”, 233-pound man who ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash. Those are some elite traits, but they don’t necessarily translate into a productive rookie season.
Rounding out the group, or at least the frontrunners to do so, are Deon Cain and Ryan Switzer, the former of whom was noted for providing some deep threat ability, the latter offering depth in the slot, a season after Smith-Schuster saw a career-high percentage of his own snaps coming out of the slot.
I think it’s fair to speculate that this receiving corps is going to be ranked much higher heading into 2021 than Pro Football Focus is comfortable with right now. That is, of course, that we do end up playing ball.