It’s said a draft class can’t be fully graded until at least three years after the picks are made. That’s why after submitting grades for every Pittsburgh Steelers pick made in 2021, I began going back through and grading previous Steeler draft classes beginning with 2018. Today continues the fifth class in that exercise, with the Steelers’ fourth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft: Martavis Bryant, a wide receiver from Clemson.
This exercise follows the six viewpoints (listed below) for examining and re-grading a pick. Each of the first five viewpoints gets examined and assigned a letter grade, before taking that analysis and combining it into a final letter grade. Those five viewpoints comprise much of what goes into the draft grades consumed by so many every year after the draft.
Steelers’ Career: What did the player contribute to the team that drafted him?
NFL Career: Did the player make the pick look better in hindsight after leaving Pittsburgh?
Pick Value: Did the player outperform his draft slot? Did he fail to live up to the pick used on him?
Positional Value: Was the player the best player remaining at his specific position in the draft?
Other Options: Did any players go during the next round that were better selections?
Overall Grade: A final mark to denote whether the selection was an overall positive one, or one better spent elsewhere.
Each factor in a retrospective doesn’t apply evenly to every pick made; consider the grades weighted. For example, to return a high grade in pick value, a first-round pick should have a long and impactful career, while a later-round pick needs only a couple seasons as a back-up or modest contributor to be worth the selection used on him.
Some factors are universal, though. Whether picked first overall or 259th, there will always be other options on the board to compare the player to, and steals and reaches can come from any place in the draft.
Round 4, Pick 18: Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
STEELERS CAREER: B-
Every pick on Days 1 and 2 of the Steelers’ 2014 Draft was noteworthy in a major way. Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt were immediately viewed as future defensive cornerstones, and Dri Archer was one of the biggest home run players on offense in the draft. Continuing that trend was Martavis Bryant, who began Pittsburgh’s Day 3 and was viewed as outstanding value when the team selected him.
Bryant didn’t start his career NFL-ready. He spent the first six games as an inactive before Pittsburgh promoted him to the main roster. Reflecting his upside, Bryant immediately worked his way onto the field once activated, jumping Archer, Justin Brown, and Lance Moore to spend the rest of season as the team’s third receiver. Anyone doubting his home run ability was silenced when Bryant averaged over 20 yards per catch on 26 receptions, with nearly a third of those going for touchdowns (eight). He finished with 549 yards and a locked-in starting spot for the following season.
Then came the first of three suspensions in Bryant’s NFL career. His 2015 one was the shortest, four games for marijuana usage which violated the league’s substance abuse policy. That knocked him out for the start of the season, but Bryant came back to set career-highs over the final 11 games. He had 50 receptions for 765 yards, and almost matched his rookie pace by scoring six touchdowns. Once again, he had a starting spot secured, before a suspension: The full 2016 season, as a result of multiple missed drug tests.
After spending the year away, Bryant earned reinstatement from the NFL for 2017, and had a starting job ready for him. In his final Pittsburgh season, Bryant played in 15 games, starting eight. He caught another 50 passes, for 603 yards, and scored three touchdowns. But in a precursor to the saga that would unfold with Antonio Brown the next year, Bryant’s season was highlighted by a trade demand, as he fell back to third among the team’s receivers with the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster. That demand and the manner in which he expressed his discontent led the team to make him an inactive for one game. Following the season, he got his wish, ending a Steeler career of incredible promise that was interrupted by suspensions.
NFL CAREER: D
And in an exact preview of what would happen with Antonio Brown a year later, Pittsburgh traded a disgruntled Bryant to the Oakland Raiders, receiving a third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Steelers used that pick, paired with a seventh-rounder, to move up to 76th to draft quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Bryant quickly wore out his welcome with the Raiders, failing to make his way into he starting lineup during the offseason and camp. He also had another lengthy suspension hanging over him from the league, which loomed throughout the 2018 season until finally arriving mid-December. The suspension came just over a week after a knee injury ended Bryant’s on-field season, after 19 receptions for 266 yards over eight games.
Bryant remains under that indefinite suspension from the league, for violating the terms of his reinstatement back in 2017. He remains active in football, and will be playing for the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL beginning next month.
PICK VALUE: B
On the field, Bryant showed he was clearly better than a fourth-round pick. Off of it, suspensions and his trade demand clouded how he would be remembered. In limited time in the league and with constant pauses, Bryant out-played his draft slot and showed he could be a Pro Bowl deep threat in the NFL. He just couldn’t stay on the field enough to reach that ceiling, and really bring home some incredible value to this pick.
POSITIONAL VALUE: A+
Dri Archer’s retrospective took care of this section, in laying out that the Day 3 class of receivers in 2014 was empty of long-term NFL contributors. And, as stated in that piece, Bryant is the runaway best receiver taken to end the 2014 draft.
His 145 receptions lead second-place Ryan Grant (142nd, Washington) by 22. His 2,183 yards are 566 more than second-place Quincy Enunwa (209th, New York Jets). Bryant’s 17 touchdowns are more than triple that of any other Day 3 receiver taken that year, and the only one who ever approached being an NFL starter was Enunwa, on a weak Jets roster. Even if Bryant’s career is a shell of what it had the potential to be, it is still the best one when looking back at the end of 2014’s class.
OTHER OPTIONS: B-
It’s not exactly a Pro Bowl group, but a lot of players who went in the round of picks following Bryant remain in the league as contributors. In fact, the very next players selected, Anthony Hitchens (119th, Dallas) and Logan Thomas (120th, Arizona) are two of the best. Hitchens is a Super Bowl champion and on his eighth year starting at linebacker, now with Kansas City, and Thomas converted to tight end from quarterback and had a breakout year with Washington in 2020.
James White (130th, New England) was an integral part of three Patriot Super Bowls and remains a top pass-catching back in the NFL. Tre Boston (128th, Carolina) and Ricardo Allen (147th, Atlanta) have both started five seasons at safety. Avery Williamson (151st, Tennessee) made a stop-over in Pittsburgh himself last season, his sixth starting at linebacker.
Numerous others have stuck around as backups or earned a season or two to audition as starters. Bryant’s ceiling was among the highest of the entire group, but the longevity of a lot of the players drafted over the next 32 picks is more impressive than the four partial seasons Bryant spent on the field.
OVERALL GRADE: B
The sky was the limit for Bryant, and he had exactly what was needed to succeed in the NFL as a deep threat on the outside. Much like Josh Gordon with the Cleveland Browns, suspensions kept the AFC North and the rest of the league from seeing just how good Bryant could have been in the long run. An All-Pro or perennial Pro Bowler might be a stretch, but making at least one Pro Bowl, getting a 1,000-yard season, and earning a large second contract were all absolutely within reach for Bryant had he been able to keep himself on the field.
Instead, Bryant remains suspended from the league and is up in the CFL for the latest chapter of his career. Should he ever earn reinstatement to the NFL and make a comeback, teams would be interested, just as they were to the idea last year. From the perspective of the Steelers, this selection was still a positive one. The team identified a player with a lot of talent for a Day 3 pick, and got multiple productive seasons from him before off-field issues became too much to tolerate.