Ike Hilliard Hoping WR Ray-Ray McCloud Can Carve Himself Out A Niche On Offense In 2021

Last season, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud pretty much came out of nowhere as the former sixth round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills not only was signed after the start of training camp, but he also made the 53-man roster. While McCloud’s primary role with the Steelers in 2020 was as the team’s kick and punt returner, he did play well over 150 offensive snaps throughout the season on his way to registering 20 regular season receptions for 77 yards with a long of 13 yards. He also ran the football four times for 65 yards with a long of 58 yards.

So, what kind of role might McCloud have with the Steelers in 2021? That’s a question Steelers wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard was asked on Thursday during his media session.

“His role? That’s a great question,” Hilliard said. “I think as a coaching staff, we do our best to put everybody in the best positions possible. What we love about Ray is the fact that he has some versatility to him. We see his skills in our return game. He’s going to continue to work like he did last year, carve a niche out for himself on the offensive side of the ball. So, we’re excited about the fact that he’s more comfortable in the system.”

The biggest knock on McCloud so far in the NFL is that he hasn’t done much as a receiver past the line of scrimmage. In fact, to date, McCloud has 25 receptions in the NFL with 15 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage.

Last week, fellow Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster praised McCloud during his own media session and even went as far as to suggest that he is the second-best slot wide receiver option the team currently has. With all due respect to Smith-Schuster, that might have been a little bit of a stretch.

If McCloud does indeed wind up making the Steelers 53-man roster again in 2021, which seems like a forgone conclusion at this point because he’s so good as returner, it will be interesting to see how and how much he’s ultimately used on the offensive side of the football and if new offensive coordinator Matt Canada can find ways to get the Clemson product the rock out in space and potentially even down the field more.

Obviously, we can probably expect to see McCloud continue to get more touches on jet sweep and screen plays like last season and that’s fine. More importantly, however, he needs to become more than just a gadget and motion-type player for the Steelers on offense in 2021 if he’s going to exceed his 2020 offensive snap totals and touch the football more than the 24 times he touched it in his first season in Pittsburgh.

“He’s able to move around to every position and we’ll see if he can continue to progress and find a final role for himself,” Hilliard said of McCloud on Thursday.

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