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 Ray-Ray McCloud
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Already established as the Steelers’ return man, the offense also favored him as their primary slot receiver after JuJu Smith-Schuster was injured. Coupled by predictable departures at the position, it’s likely that McCloud returns for a third season in Pittsburgh, and possibly with a more regular role on offense.
Ray-Ray McCloud is not exactly a fan favorite, from what I gather through my job, but he does certainly have his fans in the locker room and on the coaching staff. After bouncing around teams in his first two seasons as a sixth-rounder out of Clemson, he has caught on in Pittsburgh.
In two seasons, McCloud has put up a combined 2,522 return yards for the Steelers, including 1,436 in 2021, among the most kickoff and punt return yards in a single season in franchise history. He led the league this year in punt return yards.
While he has established himself as a solid (though not great) return man, and his ball security issues are very much an ongoing concern, one can’t deny numbers, and the number that stands out is 538. That is the number of offensive snaps that he played for the Steelers this season. He had 287 snaps in his career prior to this season, including the 165 that he had in Pittsburgh in 2020.
The opportunity to play that many snaps was provided for by Smith-Schuster, who did say in the offseason that he considered McCloud the second-best slot receiver on the team behind himself. Apparently the coaches agreed with that.
McCloud is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March, but I’m not projecting him to have much of a market, and it’s likely that we hear that he has been re-signed on a one- or two-year contract before free agency opens. With Smith-Schuster and James Washington likely gone, they can use all the help they can get. It’s not like they have the resources to devote to replenishing the position with their many other needs.