Cleaning out the notebook with some offseason stats of the weird for you. Despite the pass-happy nature of today’s NFL, it’s rare for the Pittsburgh Steelers, or any team, to have three players rack up triple-digit target numbers. But for only the second time since 1992, the Steelers had three such guys in 2020.
Diontae Johnson led the team with 144 targets. JuJu Smith-Schuster came in second with 128 while Chase Claypool finished third with 109 of them. Eric Ebron nearly joined that group with 91 targets.
According to Pro Football Reference’s Play Index, which has been tracking target numbers since 1992, it’s only the second time Pittsburgh has had three guys eclipse the century mark. You might not be able to guess the other instance. It came in 2012 when Mike Wallace paced the group with 119, Antonio Brown close behind with 106, and Heath Miller squeaking over the line with 101.
League-wide, Pittsburgh was one of four teams to accomplish that feat. Cincinnati (Higgins, Boyd, Green), Dallas (Gallup, Lamb, Cooper), and Washington (McLaurin, McKissic, Thomas) were the other teams. These things obviously are becoming more commonplace as the league passes the ball more and more. And the Steelers did finish with the most pass attempts in football; Ben Roethlisberger would’ve led the league outright had he played Week 17. So there’s plenty of targets to go around.
This is just one, semi-interesting stat and I don’t put too much stock into this data. But I think it does show the value and importance of having a strong receiving group. It’s become obvious by now but no longer can teams get away with having two starting-capable receivers. Pittsburgh’s top three guys not only played a ton but saw the ball a ton. In today’s NFL, you have to be at least four-deep. A top three expected to see the lion’s share of the workload and a #4 for whenever injury inevitably happens.
It’s one reason why Pittsburgh drafts receivers almost every single year. Kevin Colbert’s taken one in all but three draft classes. The last he didn’t was 2011, a year removed from taking Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. And if JuJu Smith-Schuster walks in free agency, why they’ll have to go to that well again, even though Claypool, Johnson, and James Washington will remain in the room.