The Pittsburgh Steelers have been known as a wide receiver factory for the bulk of Mike Tomlin’s tenure as head coach. From Mike Wallace to Chase Claypool, he has certainly had a very good run of finding talent, while never dipping into the position in the first round.
The same cannot be said for the rest of the AFC North, though, even if they have had smatterings of success over the years, but have often had to turn to free agency for assistance. In spite of the talent in the division, however, CBS Sports recently ranked the AFC North seventh out of the eight divisions in the league with respect to the wide receiver position, according to Jared Dubin:
This is actually a pretty solid group. The Bengals, in particular, have a very strong trio of receivers, assuming that [Ja’Marr] Chase can translate his skill set from college to the pros. But [Odell] Beckham has injury issues, and the rest of the division outside of him is filled more with “pretty good” talent than any kind of top-end players. Claypool has the potential to be a top-of-the-line guy based on his size and athleticism, but if the Steelers offense looks anything like it did last year, that’s not happening.
I’ll admit that I chuckle somewhat at this analysis, and I certainly think the case could be made that the division could or should be much higher than this, but the reality is that this is a golden age for the wide receiver position, with stars coming into the league on a yearly basis now.
The fact that JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson didn’t even get mentioned in the blurb, though, tells me how little at least this particular writer respects the Steelers’ talent at the wide receiver position, because I think you can match up their four-deep lineup against just about any other team in the league and put up quite a fight.
Much of it has to do with perception stemming from the limitations of last year’s offense, and a lot of that had to do with the play-calling of former offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. I believe Matt Canada will do a better job of putting players in position to make plays in the passing game and not rely on Ben Roethlisberger ad-libbing hot routes simply because nothing else is working.
Overall, the AFC North has the potential to be the best division in the league at the wide receiver position this year, but there is still much for them to prove. Beckham, for example, has to be healthy, and that Browns offense has to gel in Kevin Stefanski’s second year. And it remains to be seen what the Ravens can put together in a run-first offense, though they’ve tried this offseason.