Now that the regular season has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of the offseason and the regular season as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: WR Ray-Ray McCloud
Stock Value: Down
Reasoning: The fourth-year return man fumbled for the third time of the season, spilling the ball out on a punt return that was picked up and run in for a touchdown by the Chicago Bears.
The number one job of a return man is ball security, first and foremost. Field the ball and retain possession. That is the bare minimum requirement of the role. This is the area in which Ray-Ray McCloud has been most lacking over the course of his entire career.
Now in his second season with the Steelers, he has fumbled five times since arriving in the Steel City in 24 games played. He fumbled five times in 16 games during his first two seasons in the NFL, as well, between time with the Buffalo Bills and the Carolina Panthers.
The reason that he found himself bouncing around was because of that ball security. With limited opportunities for a regular role on offense, he has shown the ability to be effective as a return man with good agility and shiftiness, but you simply must field the ball cleanly and then keep it for the offense to take the field.
Put simply, McCloud is a solid return man, but he’s certainly not so good that he can’t lose his job. They would even put Diontae Johnson back out there if they have to, but they have another option on the practice squad in Steven Sims, a veteran wide receiver who played under wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard in Washington in 2019.
McCloud was having a good season overall as the Steelers’ return man when you factor out ball security, which is why he has been able to keep his role. But he has fumbled twice on returns this year (and a third time on offense), and, well, we’ll have to see how head coach Mike Tomlin and special teams coordinator Danny Smith approach the return role after this game.
McCloud was left out there for the final kick return of the game, which went for a touchback, but that doesn’t mean they won’t revisit the job this week. Due to a Chase Claypool injury, he had to play on offense on the final drive as well, recording a reception early, but head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that his fumble was “unacceptable”.