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: The Steelers will draft a WR before the sixth round in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Explanation: It’s fairly safe to say that the Steelers will probably draft a wide receiver in a few weeks. There’s rarely a draft that goes by that they don’t add to the position, and the same can probably be said for most teams today. But after four straight years of drafting one within the first 66 picks, a potential draft pick wide receiver this year figures to come potentially later in the draft.
Wide receiver is never out of the equation. Drafting wide receivers in the second round (or very near) four straight years should tell you that, and it’s not like two of their four high draft picks over the past four drafts aren’t scheduled to be free agents after this season.
The reality is that, outside of the players who are already contributing, they don’t really have much in the pipeline. They have Anthony Johnson and Cody White, who were on the practice squad last year, the Trey Griffeys and Tevin Jones of today. They just signed two guys from Pro Day workouts.
And the reality is that the Steelers draft wide receivers high almost as often as they draft wide receivers, period. Limas Sweed in Round 2 in 2008. Mike Wallace in Round 3 a year later, then Emmanuel Sanders a year after that. Markus Wheaton in the third in 2013. Martavis Bryant in Round 4 in 2014. Sammy Coates in Round 3 in 2016. Then Smith-Schuster, Washington, Johnson, Claypool. That’s 10 out of 14 drafts in which they used at least a fourth-round pick on the position. And again, they only have two guys under contract for 2022.
Regardless of how the 2021 season and the following offseason plays out, the Steelers still have their top two wide receivers for 2022 already on the roster, most likely. If they don’t re-sign JuJu Smith-Schuster next offseason, then it will be Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. And among those three, you have to figure at least one of them will be given a long-term contract.
The Steelers have never had this much pedigree at the wide receiver position, and they know that they’re a good four-deep right now with a lot of needs at other positions, particularly along the offensive line and in the backfield, that are a higher priority. I just can’t see a Day 2 or earlier draft pick here for the Steelers, and a WR will likely come in Justin Brown/Antonio Brown/Demarcus Ayers territory — the sixth or seventh rounds.