We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made by then. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 10 starters or primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed only five of them, those being JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, Zach Banner, Tyson Alualu, and Jordan Berry. They re-signed a number exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly Robert Spillane and J.C. Hassenauer, while signing Ray-Ray McCloud to a non-tender deal.
The deals of Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Derek Watt, and Eric Ebron were restructured, while those of Steven Nelson and Vince Williams were terminated, the latter being re-signed. Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald retired.
Of note, the Steelers have added five players as unrestricted or street agents from outside of the organization, including three offensive linemen in Joe Haeg, Rashaad Coward, and former Steeler B.J. Finney. The group also includes linebacker Miles Killebrew and running back Kalen Ballage.
Position: Wide Receiver
Total Positional Figure: 9
Offseason Additions: 2
Offseason Deletions: 0
JuJu Smith-Schuster: Smith-Schuster re-signing was a mild surprise, but made less so by the soft market. He is on a one-year prove-it deal in which he hopes to show that he can raise his YPC stat to something greater than rookie-year Jesse James territory.
Chase Claypool: Perhaps on the cusp of breaking out into superstardom territory, Claypool is coming off of an excellent rookie season in which, including the postseason, he scored 13 total touchdowns in 17 games, catching 62 passes (a franchise rookie record) for nearly 900 yards.
Diontae Johnson: While he battled some mental and physical demons that resulted in his dropsies turning into the yips, Johnson remains a very talented young player with elite route-running potential, who quickly emerged as a favorite target of Ben Roethlisberger.
James Washington: Without doing an in-depth dive on everybody’s roster, could James Washington be the best number four receiver in the league right now? The Steelers had four wide receivers catch at least five touchdowns last year. I’m sure that doesn’t happen often.
Ray-Ray McCloud: After finding success as a return specialist last year, McCloud is back to do it again, and perhaps looking to expand his role on offense as well, which was, let’s say, limited in his first season in the black and gold.
Anthony Johnson: Johnson originally signed a futures deal with the Steelers at the end of the 2019 season. He was waived injured in training camp. When healthy, he signed to the practice squad in late October, and brought back on another futures deal this year.
Cody White: White was originally signed to the practice squad in late September after Daniel McCullers signed with the Bears. He spent the rest of the season there. Pittsburgh retained him on a futures deal after the season.
Tyler Simmons: The Steelers signed Simmons after watching him work out at Georgia’s Pro Day. Spent time with the Texans after going undrafted a year ago.
Mathew Sexton: Signed after working out at Michigan State’s Pro Day (as an Eastern Michigan alum). He went undrafted and unsigned last year.
Players Deleted: N/A
Notes and Draft Outlook:
Returning all five of the wide receivers who spent time on the 53-man roster a year ago, it’s not clear that there is any need for the Steelers, at least for the 2021 season. But with both Smith-Schuster and Washington being unrestricted free agents next year, and the fact that the team almost always drafts a wide receiver, we have to assume that the position is very much on their board. The real question is how early they plan to address the position where value meets need. This is a particularly strong class for inside receivers, an area they may target.