It was a surprise when the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to carry only five wide receivers on the 53-man roster to start the 2020 season, waiving players like Deon Cain and Ryan Switzer in the process, who were on the roster a year ago. Cain was retained on the practice squad, and did dress for one game when Diontae Johnson missed time.
The five that they have carried, however, are all contributing. James Washington’s role has been scaled back in recent weeks, but he seems to be good for one significant catch per game. Last week, it was a touchdown. Today, it was a key third-down grab on a great catch and throw.
Ray-Ray McCloud is the other receiver that is not part of most 11 personnel packages. He was signed in the middle of August and made the team. Although he only has 14 catches for 70 yards, he actually leads the team with 724 all-purpose yards, since he is also their primary kick and punt returner.
Then, of course, there are JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool, the big three, all of whom have over 500 receiving yards on the season. Both of the former two have well over 40 receptions, while Claypool has one shy. All have at least four touchdowns. Claypool has 10, with eight receiving scores.
And all of them are under the age of 25, amazingly enough. All of them are talented and willing to put in the work and make plays when called upon, and attempt to do so without a lot of ego with regards to others making plays that they believe they should be making. It’s meant a good time for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“They’re a fun young group”, he said after the game about his receivers. “I enjoy working with them. I enjoy communicating with them, at nights, through videos and texts and things like that. I joke that they keep me young, but they really are a selfless group that really believes in each other. They’re genuinely happy for each other, and they just want to win football games. I’m blessed to have such a fun skill group”.
We saw that earlier today, for example, after Claypool caught a touchdown pass. It was Smith-Schuster’s birthday, and they planned a group celebration in which they would present him with a ‘birthday cake’ in the form of the football.
Johnson went over 100 yards on the day for the second week in a row, with a career-high 12 catches. Claypool went four for 59 and the score. McCloud added 20 yards on four receptions, while Smith-Schuster had 19 on four, and Washington’s one reception was a 12-yard conversion on third down.
It all adds up to yet another win and a successful day for the passing game, which saw the starting offense rest for the final couple of drives.