2022 Offseason Positional Review – Wide Receiver

Pittsburgh Steelers receivers

It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.

The Steelers are likely to be subject to more change than they are used to this year, with more than a dozen players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, including numerous starters. Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement looms large over all discussions for the foreseeable future.

Position: Wide Receiver

Total Positional Figure: 10
Additions: 0
Deletions: 0

Players Retained:

JuJu Smith-Schuster: Soon to be an unrestricted free agent, the Steelers have once again said that they would like to retain him if in any way possible. Given how the 2021 season went for him, he may well face such a depleted market that he has no attractive alternatives, but I’m not predicting that outcome.

Diontae Johnson: Johnson took a big step forward in 2021, putting up his first 100-1,000 season with eight touchdowns. He is a Pro Bowl talent with elite traits; however, as we saw late in the season, he is still limited with certain drawbacks, particularly with drops. These issues tend to be magnified to a level beyond their actual significance, however; he is still an excellent player with No. 1 potential and room to grow.

Chase Claypool: 59 catches for 860 yards is not so bad for Chase Claypool, but it’s not where he should have been coming off of his rookie year. The fact that he got into the end zone only twice was a big disappointment. More at issue is his actual tape. He’s not winning in the air as he did in college, even though he still makes the occasional exceptional play. One would be a fool to give up on him, though, even if it would be advisable to being considering ways to better maximize his skills.

James Washington: Washington will probably run a faster 40 time leaving Pittsburgh than he did at the Combine. What he needs now more than anything is an opportunity to have a reliable role somewhere, which he evidently isn’t going to find in Pittsburgh.

Ray-Ray McCloud: An established and solid return man when he’s holding onto the ball, McCloud played more than 500 snaps on offense, mostly after Smith-Schuster’s injury. He averaged just 7.1 yards per reception, however. While he has grown, one wonders how far he is from his ceiling, which is probably as a number four option and gadget player.

Cody White: After impressing in training camp, White was signed to the practice squad, but called up to the 53-man roster after Smith-Schuster’s injury; he had already been playing as an elevation due to other injuries. Seeing 77 snaps overall on offense and 105 on special teams, he has the potential to remain as a bottom-of-the-roster receiver willing to do the dirty work.

Steven Sims: Sims previously played for the Commanders before beginning the 2021 season on the Steelers’ practice squad. He never really got the opportunity to contribute, however, but he was retained on a futures deal to compete for a roster spot.

Anthony Miller: Like Sims, Miller is more of a veteran player, and in his case, a former high draft pick, even. His season trajectory, though has been much the same. It would be interesting to know how the coaching staff views these two moving forward.

Rico Bussey: One of their rookie undrafted free agents, Bussey drew attention throughout the offseason and made the initial practice squad, but was quickly moved to the injured list, where he spent most of the season until late December. He was retained on a future deal.

Tyler Vaughns: Vaughns was signed to take Bussey’s spot on the practice squad in early September, and he remained there outside of a few short three or four-day periods late in the year when they had to make roster adjustments due to injury and COVID (he himself spent time on the COVID list). The rookie out of USC, like Bussey, has height to his advantage; he was signed to a futures contract.

Additions: N/A

Deletions: N/A

Offseason Strategy:

It is a bit unusual to have 10 wide receivers at this point in the offseason without having added any from outside of your organization yet, but there are a couple of factors involved, namely injuries for Smith-Schuster and Bussey, which opened spots for others.

Still, of those remaining, Johnson, Claypool, and McCloud are the only ones you can be pretty confident will be on the opening-day 53-man roster in 2022. Smith-Schuster and Washington are unrestricted free agents, while the others are easily replacement-level commodities.

Whether they want to or not, the position has to be on their radar, and with the 40 times this year’s wide receivers are putting down at the Combine, it seems like a good time to be looking at somebody with speed who can add that dimension to their offense, which they currently only seem to think they possess. And the free agent market is not exactly brimming with young speedsters.

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