The Pittsburgh Steelers have four high-pedigreed wide receivers now on their 80-man roster, all of whom they have drafted on Day Two of the past four NFL Draft classes. It may be a challenge finding the right balance in distributing the ball between all of these targets.
Add in a backfield that has shown some adeptness in the receiving game, such as James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, and the addition of a second receiving threat at tight end in Eric Ebron to pair with Vance McDonald, and you have a good seven or eight legitimate weapons at the skill position that you will want to incorporate into the passing game over the course of the season.
So how do you keep everybody happy—particularly as the position coach of a young wide receiver group fully of hungry players looking to prove themselves and to contribute? How do you stave off frustration and keep everybody content?
“Winning is the cure-all”, said new Steelers wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard, who was hired earlier this offseason, though he is far from new to coaching the position in the NFL. “I think everybody’s heard that before. You win football games, everyone’s happy”, he continued.
This is typically true, though there are the exceptions, like Antonio Brown, who would visibly demonstrate his frustrations when he felt that he was not getting the ball as much as he should have. At least thus far, JuJu Smith-Schuster and others have not exhibited similar tendencies.
“I’ve really never been concerned with egos and attitudes, personalities. That comes with the territory”, Hilliard continued. “I think when guys understand what the ultimate goal is, we won’t have those issues. It starts Day 1. We have, I personally think, a Hall of Fame quarterback coming back this year healthy, and he’s going to lead this team. He’s going to give the ball where it’s supposed to go, and it’s our job to make the play when the ball is in the air. We won’t have to worry about any of that other stuff going forward”.
In addition to Smith-Schuster, a 23-year-old heading into his fourth season, the Steelers also return third-year James Washington and second-year Diontae Johnson from last season’s roster. Washington led the team in receiving yards, Johnson in receptions and receiving touchdowns. Chase Claypool was drafted 49th-overall out of Notre Dame in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Deon Cain and Ryan Switzer are two more wide receivers who return this offseason from the 2019 53-man roster, the former added from the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad with six weeks remaining in the season. Amara Darboh, a former third-round draft pick, did finish the season on the 53-man roster as well due to injuries, though he did not contribute.