I’m sure it came to many as a surprise when the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster cuts were announced several weeks ago and the name of Ray-Ray McCloud was not on it, not just because he was signed in the middle of training camp as a street free agent at a deep position, but also because he has had a relatively undistinguished career up to this point without substantial pedigree.
A sixth-round pick out of Clemson in 2018, he was originally drafted by the Buffalo Bills. He dressed for 10 games during his rookie season, functioning primarily as a return man, but made it through only one year. He was left go during final cuts last year and claimed by the Carolina Panthers, where he would spend six weeks before being let go again (after fumbling three times). The Bills re-signed him to the practice squad, where he finished up his second season.
When the Steelers announced in the middle of August that they had signed him, many were probably thinking that practice squad would be his best-case scenario. In addition to four recent premium draft picks, they still retained Ryan Switzer and Deon Cain from last year’s roster, plus intriguing size prospects like Saeed Blacknail and Amara Darboh. But his name never showed up. He made the team as the number five and final receiver.
“Honestly, I don’t think about the practice squad”, McCloud told reporters yesterday after he was asked, when signing with the Steelers on August 21, if his mindset was to just get his foot in the door to start by making the practice squad.
“I don’t feel like I’m a practice squad dude, and I’m never gonna put my mindset to settle for that”, he continued. “When I got here, it was just, ‘go be yourself’. I had to change and be a different person in other places, and when I got here, it was just, be yourself and everything else will take care of itself”.
Through the first two games of the season, he only logged snaps on special teams, but has begun to see opportunities on offense, including 18 snaps on Sunday in a win over the Philadelphia Eagles. He had five touches in all, among them a 58-yard sweep. He caught three passes on three targets as well.
His primary role, of course, ahs been as a return man, and he has been successful in this department. He has returned seven kicks so far this season for 192 total yards, averaging 27.4 yards per return, with a long of 49, the most any Steeler has had since JuJu Smith-Schuster’s touchdown in 2017. He has also returned two punts for 25 yards.
Having established himself now as the team’s kick returner and backup punt returner, McCloud is now beginning to work his way into the offense, where he is a fit for the teams’ new looks involving pre-snap motion. Unless he starts coughing up the ball, I don’t think he’ll be needing to worry about the practice squad this year.