Should the Pittsburgh Steelers ultimately lose wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency in the next few weeks, which player will wind up playing predominantly in the slot in 2021? Personally, I think that player might end up being wide receiver Chase Claypool, as he did that some in college at Notre Dame. Like Smith-Schuster he is a bigger-bodied player. ESPN, however, has a different take on the matter.
Brooke Pryor of ESPN wrote in her Steelers free agent preview that wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud might be an option to replace Smith-Schuster in the slot in 2021.
With what he’ll command on the open market and the Steelers’ cap troubles, Smith-Schuster is likely gone, leaving the Steelers with a need to fill the slot position. Restricted free agent Ray-Ray McCloud is an option, as is Johnson, but that’s the most glaring need at the position to be filled either through the draft or an inexpensive free agent.
Personally, I just can’t see McCloud playing in the slot extensively moving forward and that’s assuming he’s back with the Steelers in 2021. As of the time of this post, McCloud is scheduled to become a restricted free agent and there has been no word that he’s been tendered at a low level yet. With the Steelers currently having cap issues, tendering McCloud a one-year deal at more than $2 million seems like a luxury.
While McCloud was great as a punt returner in 2020, he certainly didn’t produce much of any as a wide receiver when used on offense. In fact, McCloud’s average depth of target in 2020 on 22 total targets was -1.5 yards. Those targets resulted in 20 receptions for just 77 yards. He registered 105 yards after the catch so that shows that most of his catches came behind the line of scrimmage.
Ray-Ray McCloud had an aDOT of -1.5 yards in 2020 on 22 total targets. #Steelers
— Steelers Depot 🎄 (@Steelersdepot) January 25, 2021
Expecting McCloud to be a viable slot option to replace Smith-Schuster would be super foolish on the part of the Steelers and new offensive coordinator Matt Canada. If McCloud is retained this offseason, the goal should be to use him more on offense and perhaps as a fourth wide receiver on the field. Of course, he should also continue to return punts and kickoffs as well but that should be the extent of his usage.