If you had Ray-Ray McCloud pegged as a top-five leader in Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 targets, put your hand down, you liar. But with two games to play, McCloud has 47 targets this season, fifth most on the team. Of course, it has plenty to do with JuJu Smith-Schuster’s season-ending shoulder injury suffered early in the year. But with eight targets in Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, McCloud has been an integral part of the offense time and time again.
Speaking to reporters after today’s game, Ben Roethlisberger explained why.
“Ray-Ray’s very shifty and quick,” he said in audio provided by the team. “Finds ways to get open and man coverage. Really good like that. And they’re doubling [Diontae] and Chase a lot too.”
Against the Chiefs, McCloud finished the day with four catches for 25 yards on eight targets. It’s become a typical stat line for him. Decent volume in targets and catches for not many yards. He’s an option route receiver, running short routes over the middle as Smith-Schuster did when healthy with the occasional boot or rollout pass into the flat. McCloud was targeted downfield at least once Sunday, a failed flea flicker that Ben Roethlisberger sailed, leading to a Chiefs’ interception.
McCloud was signed primarily to be the team’s starting return man. But with Smith-Schuster lost early in 2021 and few other options in the slot, McCloud has played a heavy amount of snaps this season. His 47 targets are well more than he’s seen his entire career leading up to this year and more than double his 2020 mark of 22. His stat line looks similar to that of Ryan Switzer.
In fact, in NFL history, there have been only five wide receivers with 50+ career catches averaging less than 6.7 yards per catch. Two of them are Steelers, McCloud and Switzer. Here’s the list.
Lowest YPC By A WR, NFL History (Min 50 receptions)
1. Patrick Hape – 5.63
2. Ray-Ray McCloud – 5.67
3. Walter Reeves – 6.31
4. Ryan Switzer – 6.42
5. Ernie Koy – 6.55
Hape and McCloud were tied coming into Sunday’s game before McCloud’s “outburst”, averaging 6.3 yards per catch versus the Chiefs.
McCloud is playing to his skillset and his effort and heart shouldn’t be questioned. In a year where Steelers’ receivers have loafed, made silly comments, and asked for trades, McCloud has put his best foot forward. But it’s fair to question if the Steelers should look for some more help. Veteran Anthony Miller has been on the practice squad most of the year, only given a cup of coffee on the 53-man roster. If the Steelers want to keep overturning stones as they look to improve the offense, that should be an option they consider.