There was a time that the Pittsburgh Steelers were known as something of a linebacker factory. They still uncover a great one from time to time, like T.J. Watt. Bud Dupree has also developed, and Devin Bush is a budding star, while Vince Williams is the reliable grizzly and perpetually underappreciated veteran.
But if there is one position that defines the team over the past dozen years, it’s wide receiver. It has been Mike Tomlin’s greatest legacy as a collegiate talent evaluator. While it unfortunately started inauspiciously with Limas Sweed in his second season, he has added plenty of talent since then.
There was Mike Wallace in 2010, followed by Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders in 2010. They added Martavis Bryant in 2014, then JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2017, Diontae Johnson in 2019, and now Chase Claypool in 2020. That’s not even mentioning guys like Markus Wheaton.
What’s the key to the Steelers’ success at the position? Well, if you ask Maurkice Pouncey, the biggest common denominator is not the people bringing these players in, but rather the one throwing them the ball. He talked about that on Inside Access on Tuesday:
Well, I’ll tell you one thing: it’s Ben Roethlisberger. When you’ve got a quarterback that can place the ball where he can place it, obviously it creates a lot of opportunities for them guys, and it gives the ma chance to grow as young players. He’s a veteran in this league, and obviously, his resume says enough about himself, but the way he brings out receivers, and the way he creates guys to have opportunities—and look at the guys who left. Not taking anything away from the receiving corps, and them guys are great players, trust me. They make it happen just as well. But it’s just something about when you have a great quarterback and you have a skill set like that, that you can just attack different areas of the football field. Looking at it from a long time of playing, I can just appreciate it. That’s the aspect I look at it from. Maybe other people have different views. And don’t get me wrong, Kevin Colbert plays a part in it, picking guys, and picking the guys that he likes and stuff, in my opinion, it always comes down to the leader of the organization, and that’s the quarterback.
Over the past four years, the Steelers have used four draft picks 66th-overall or higher on the position, including Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Johnson, and Claypool, the latter being the highest-drafted at 49th overall.
This may be the deepest top four they have ever had, at least at the time that they had them, but the quadruplet of Wallace, Brown, Sanders, and Hines Ward was pretty good too, even if they were mostly at different stages of their careers.