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 use Ray-Ray McCloud as a gadget player on offense (even when the wide receivers are fully healthy).
Explanation: The Steelers chose to keep only five wide receivers on the 53-man roster when they ordinarily prefer to carry six. And the fifth this year was Ray-Ray McCloud, whom many regard as little more than a return specialist. In his two-year career, he does have five receptions for 36 yards and two rushes for four yards (one went for -3).
While McCloud wasn’t a ‘gadget’ player in college, Clemson did use him on designed runs and inside screens, plays of that sort, throughout his time there, which largely functioned as an extension of his return ability, the reason that he made the Steelers’ 53-man roster.
There are a couple of reasons to believe that we will see McCloud in this role in 2020, albeit a small one. For one thing, they have a history of using wide receivers like Darrius Heyward-Bey and Johnny Holton on end-arounds. For another thing, it’s part of what makes pre-snap motion effective.
When you actually run some of the types of plays that sell pre-snap motion, like handing the ball off to a wide receiver motioning across the formation, it makes utilizing it in all situations more potent. McCloud has good open-field vision and tackle-breaking ability, so this is an area in which he can contribute.
Still, there are a few problems working against him. For one thing, he fumbles. He’s fumbled five times on something like 30 touches in his NFL career, which is extraordinarily bad. For another, he’s only even been in the facility for a few weeks. He doesn’t know the offense.
More importantly, they have other players they can use in this role. Diontae Johnson is an obvious candidate. He was one of the best wide receivers in the NFL last season in terms of breaking tackles, and he showed the ability to reverse field and make plays. He is, after all, their punt returner, and has similar vision—likely better—than McCloud. Sure, maybe he gets a play or two, but even assuming these sorts of plays become a meaningful part of the Steelers’ offense, it wouldn’t be run through McCloud.