The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will have multiple special teams return touchdowns this season.
Explanation: For the first time since perhaps 2012, the Steelers have returners in the kick and punt return game who are explosive and capable of making people miss. That year, Chris Rainey posted over 1000 kick return yards and Antonio Brown was coming off a Pro Bowl season as a returner. Now they have Diontae Johnson and Ray-Ray McCloud.
Diontae Johnson already has one punt return touchdown on just 25 returns, and he should have had a second if not for an unnecessary block in the back penalty. The way he operates, it would be surprising if he does not average at least one return touchdown per season for as long as he holds on to that role.
Ray-Ray McCloud has a very small sample size, but he’s averaging almost 33 yards per return. His 49-yard kick return on Sunday is currently the longest in the NFL. He didn’t return many kicks in college, but he did have a punt return touchdown there.
Between the two of them, and what looks to be perhaps some improved blocking on special teams from the likes of Derek Watt and others, it’s entirely reasonable to believe that they can have multiple return touchdowns over the next 14 games.
The Steelers haven’t had multiple return touchdowns for a long time. In fact, outside of Johnson last year and JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2017, they don’t have any return scores by anybody other than Antonio Brown in rather a while.
McCloud has had some nice returns, but it takes a lot to actually break one and go the distances, and the reality is that he will have relatively few chances—perhaps a couple dozen chances at kick returns at most during the years.
What’s more, teams will be playing tighter return coverage as the season progresses. There are a lot of new faces on coverage units right now, and teams haven’t had the opportunity to break them in yet.