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 five players post 500 or more receiving yards by the end of the season.
Explanation: Teams with a good passing game and a number of targets to distribute the ball to can have a tendency to produce few explosive individual numbers, but a large collection of solid numbers. The Steelers have several players among their skill positions capable of producing 500 yards in a collective distribution effort.
I would buy this all day. Barring injury, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington are all layups for 500 yards. They did it last year with Mason Rudolph. They’ll do it with Ben Roethlisberger. And Chase Claypool certainly looks to be on his way. He’s not going to catch an 84-yard touchdown every week, but he already has 127 yards. He only needs to average 27 yards per game for the final 14 games.
That’s four right there, and then you have multiple options for a fifth, with Eric Ebron the most likely. He’s fourth on the team in targets and fourth in yardage, and as Mike Tomlin hinted at, his role is inevitably going to expand. They’re just getting him going. He’s been automatic for 500-plus whenever healthy. Another layup. And then you have Vance McDonald and James Conner as possibilities as well. The former has done it before and the latter very nearly did it.
Consider this: though Conner came within a hair’s breadth in 2018, the Steelers still only had three players post 500 receiving yards that year. A year in which Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards. That’s because they had an offense with two dominant players in Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown.
Now they have that in Smith-Schuster and Johnson, who combined account for more than half of Roethlisberger’s targets on the season already. Johnson is already trending toward about 180 targets, and Smith-Schuster will have well over 100 as well. When you divide up the rest, it will be difficult to produce three more players with at least 500 receiving yards, especially when players like Washington and Claypool and Ebron and McDonald will work against one another in terms of production.