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: WR Ray-Ray McCloud will either make the Pro Bowl or the All-Pro team as a return man in 2020.
Explanation: While the Steelers being 9-0 surely counts as the biggest surprise of the season, arguably the next in line would be the emergence and success of Ray-Ray McCloud as the Steelers’ return man, who was only signed in mid-August. He currently leads in the NFL in punt return average and ranks fourth in total return yards.
Let’s just start with the fact that Ray-Ray McCloud has already nearly broken two punt returns for touchdowns this season. Given that we are only a bit through the halfway point of the season, the odds are fairly good that he has at least one more really good shot at breaking one before the season is through, and perhaps even that he is able to finish that one.
There is a very good chance that McCloud finishes this season with over 1000 combined return yards, something that has been last accomplished by a Steelers in 2012 when Chris Rainey did it. the fact that most of the better return men this season are in the NFC this year makes it easier for him to make the Pro Bowl, while the separation of kick and punt returner on the All-Pro List helps his odds of making it as the punt returner, as Diontae Johnson did last year, while leading the league in punt return average and having the second-most punt return yards.
The fact that he is not really a ‘name’ will not do McCloud any favors. He actually didn’t have much success as a returner in his first two years in the NFL, so he doesn’t have a reputation. Cordarrelle Patterson has already secured one spot, I think, on the All-Pro team, and Andre Roberts, who has been an All-Pro returner as well, is having an excellent year as well, including averaging 29.1 yards per kick return.
McCloud’s performance on kick returns has actually fallen off since the early portions of the season. In fact, he only has two kick returns longer than 29 yards, and both happened in the first two games. The All-Pro list does make a distinction between kick returner and punt returner, but Jakeem Grant has the most punt return yards and a touchdown, and Deonte Harris of the New Orleans Saints is the reigning first-team All-Pro punt returner who is doing well again this year.