Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth 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 season and into the offseason 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 Anthony Miller
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: While the veteran wide receiver could hardly catch a break in terms of receiving playing time this past season, the Steelers did think enough of him to sign him to a Reserve/Future contract this offseason, which is key with a couple of departures at the position expected.
Of the Steelers’ top five wide receivers over the past two years, two of them will be unrestricted free agents in March. Those would be JuJu Smith-Schuster, a second-round draft pick in 2017 who stayed in Pittsburgh last year on a one-year, $8 million deal, and James Washington, a 2018 second-round draft pick whose rookie contract is due to expire.
Neither of them are likely to return, though Washington’s departure is about as set in stone as possible. There is a chance that the Steelers bring back Smith-Schuster, especially given the fact that he missed most of the season, and so his market value will be at a lower point, but there have already been reports that he would like to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs, who did offer him a deal that he passed up last offseason.
That brings me, finally, to Anthony Miller, a 2018 second-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears who was traded to the Texans in July. Houston let him go after two games, and the Steelers eventually signed him to the practice squad after Smith-Schuster’s injury.
They only called him one for one game all year, though he did play 25 snaps, catching one pass for two yards. The team consistently favored Ray-Ray McCloud, who is also their return man. But there will be room for new faces in 2022 with the departures expected.
And if Miller gets a full offseason, I certainly think he has the chance to work his way into a rotation, perhaps even earn the starting slot receiver role. Matt Canada could do some things with him if he actually has the tools to run his offense.
Considering the fact that they barely thought of him last year, though, I would caution not to get your hopes up. The fact majority of players, whether prior veterans or not, who end up being signed to Reserve/Future deals rarely have much of a future in terms of playing time, or even spots on 53-man rosters.