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 produce two 1000-yard wide receivers in this year’s offense.
Explanation: The Steelers have a talented stable of wide receivers of varying degrees of experience and achievement, as well as a Hall of Fame quarterback looking to prove that he still has something left in the tank. They did have three 800-yard receivers last year, even with the shortcomings of the passing game.
Chase Claypool produced 873 yards of offense on receptions last year, and could have undoubtedly eclipsed 1,000 if the Steelers weren’t managing his snaps during the second half of the season. From Week 9 to Week 16, he only caught 26 passes for 328 yards, never topping 60 yards in a single game, which he managed five times in the other nine regular season games played, including two 100-yard games. He will develop into their number one receiver in terms of impact.
And between Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster, one of them is bound to get enough work to hit 1,000 yards. If Smith-Schuster is correct in speculating that he will get more chances to play outside this year, and command a more robust average depth of target, his numbers figure to regress to a mean that pushes him over the 1,000-yard mark again for the first time since 2018.
At the end of the day, this is still an 11-personnel offense. Roethlisberger has favorite targets who are going to be fed the ball. Once Smith-Schuster developed, he showed he was able to feed both him and Antonio Brown. There are enough targets to make it happen again.
There are just too many options for it to happen twice. Roethlisberger had to throw over 5,000 yards in 2018 to produce a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown. Brown is gone and Smith-Schuster hasn’t even hit 900 since then. In fact, they haven’t had a 1,000-yard season from anybody in the past two years.
Smith-Schuster, Claypool, Johnson, Eric Ebron, and even Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth, not to mention James Washington, will all demand touches. I think the passing game will produce more net yardage this year than in 2020, but it will come from an equally if not more diverse assemblage of talent, which will make it very difficult for any one player, let alone two, to truly stand out.