The Pittsburgh Steelers were questioned for their decision not to keep six wide receivers on their 53-man roster this season. They were questioned for making Ray-Ray McCloud their fifth wide receiver over Deon Cain, who was re-signed to the practice squad and was a protected player this week.
But through the first three games of his Steelers career, the young wide receiver has been showing his value, helping to boost the team’s return game, particularly on kick returns, an area that had been lagging for years, especially the last two with Ryan Switzer the primary player in that role.
During today’s game, he also got the opportunity to return punts after Diontae Johnson suffered a concussion in the middle of the second quarter. The numbers may not look quite as impressive, but his first two punt returns of 12 and 13 yards were both notable. He also had a kick return of 28 yards, which has actually been one of his shorter kick returns.
McCloud has also gotten a bit of work on offense, though not exactly as an active contributor, but more as a decoy. He has typically lined up either as a deep threat or as a motion man, but it wouldn’t be surprising if we do start to see him bet involved, even if on gadget plays.
Originally a sixth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2018, he spent his rookie season there, then with the Carolina Panthers a year ago. He did show some flash and explosiveness, but his overall numbers were lacking, and his biggest problem was a lack of ball control, fumbling five times on a limited number of touches.
Even though the Bills let him go, they signed him to a futures contract for 2020, but released him when training camp opened. The Steelers signed him on August 21, several weeks after he was first released, but managed to make enough of an impact to make the team, in spite of the absence of a preseason.
But he is a player about whom you wonder what can happen every time he has the ball in his hands. He has shown his quickness, but he has also shown vision in open space, and even some power, an ability to slip or break tackles. He runs with momentum and drive when he has the ball, and it’s easy to feel that him breaking one is inevitable.
McCloud has only been here for a month, but his respect is being earned on a weekly basis. He has shown that he can provide a spark on kick returns. Now he got to do that a bit on punt returns, and may take over that role from Johnson at some point this season.
Add in a dash of offensive snaps, which at some point will include him getting some end-arounds and ways to get him in open space, and you have yourself a pretty valuable number five wide receiver, while Cain sits on the practice squad.