The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the deepest and experienced wide receiving depth charts in the NFL entering 2020 with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud all back this season In fact, the Steelers are the only team in 2020 that had four players with at least 50 receptions for 500 yards and five touchdowns, per Pro Football Reference. While the Steelers wide receiver unit is deep and experienced heading into 2020, Pro Football Focus still has the group below average, having them ranked 18th in the NFL.
Here is what PFF penned about the Steelers wide receivers being ranked 18th overall:
“Last season, the Steelers struggled to create explosive plays, but they have the pieces in play to improve in that department in 2021,” Steve Palazzolo of PFF wrote. “Chase Claypool had a strong rookie season with peaks that rival the best downfield threats in the league. He led all rookies with nine receiving touchdowns, and his size and speed should be used more often this season.
“Diontae Johnson is one of the better route runners in the league, but his 2020 was marred by 14 drops on just 102 catchable passes. Drops tend to be an unstable stat, so expect that number to fall and Johnson to settle in as one of the most effective short and intermediate receivers in the league. JuJu Smith-Schuster returns after flirting with other teams in free agency. He averaged a paltry 9.0 yards per reception, far below his career average of 12.0. He remains a solid slot option. James Washington is also in the mix as his quest for consistency continues. H graded at 69.3 in 2019 and 63.8 last season. Ray-Ray McCloud III will be used in the jet sweep game after averaging just 3.9 yards per reception on his 20 catches last season.”
It will be interesting to see how the Steelers wide receiver group will be used in 2021 and especially with Matt Canada now serving as the new offensive coordinator. We could see all four of the top wide receivers move around more positionally. At least that’s the hints we have received so far from a few players such as Smith-Schuster and Washington.
As for PFF pointing out Johnson’s drop issues, it’s certainly fair to do and especially with so many of them coming close to the line of scrimmage. According to Sports Info Solutions, 14 of Johnson’s league-high 16 drops in 2020 were within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
While Smith-Schuster put up the receptions in 2020, his average yards per catch number wasn’t great. According to Next Gen Stats, Smith-Schuster ran the shortest routes of any wide receiver in 2020 (minimum 300 routes), with an average route depth of 8.3 yards. Because of that, Smith-Schuster was forced to get a good chunk of his receiving yards after the catch. Next Gen Stats says that 51.3% of Smith-Schuster’s 2020 receiving yards came after the catch and that was fourth among wide receivers within a minimum of 75 targets.