With the Steelers’ 2022 season unfortunately now in the rearview mirror, a 9-8 campaign that came up short too late in spite of a strong second half, we now turn our attention to the offseason, and the many decisions that will have to be made over the course of the next several months.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense, and both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Decisions about the coaching staff must also be made, as well as who to prioritize in free agency, and what to look for from the outside, before getting to the draft.
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: The Steelers should add a veteran slot receiver rather than try to draft one.
Explanation: With only Diontae Johnson and George Pickens as somewhat proven commodities at the wide receiver position, but also a number of options to fill out the depth chart, what the Steelers really need is a slot receiver they can count on. How best to find that is up for debate.
Learning to play in the slot, either on offense or on defense, is among the hardest things for a football player to do. And not a lot of wide receivers who make it to the NFL spent their time in college in the slot, because it’s the stars of college programs, who generally play on the outside regardless of their size, who make it this far.
That’s one of the reasons that it’s very difficult for a rookie to play at a high level while being asked to play extensively out of the slot. The most obvious name in free agency for a veteran slot would be Jarvis Landry, who played under a three-year, $3 million contract last season. When he did play—he missed eight due to injury. But that should only knock his price down.
Meanwhile, you don’t have to spend resources in the draft on yet another wide receiver who may or may not work out, and who will have to come in behind the curve for a young offense and a young quarterback who is still learning the game himself. A veteran slot option would be a boon to Kenny Pickett.
While a veteran might have more immediate success out of the slot, it’s become less and less true that rookies struggle to make that transition. After all, the Steelers’ best slot receiver since Hines Ward is JuJu Smith-Schuster, who did that as a rookie despite being an outside guy in college.
Besides, the Steelers already have some ‘veteran slot options’ who really aren’t so far removed from what most of the market would be, namely Anthony Miller and Steven Sims. Miller likely would have made the 53-man roster in 2022 had he not gotten injured.
This will also be the first time that Pickett gets a chance to help build his team. I’m sure he will be asked to look at some college tape and see what he thinks of this year’s young receivers coming out of college. They want something who can grow with him, not a one-year band-aid.