Apparently today is the day we check in on former Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receivers around the league. As the XFL returned this year under new ownership, former Steelers’ wideout Martavis Bryant was one of its headline names. Star potential, big plays, ridiculous catches, repeated suspensions eventually got him the boot from Pittsburgh and later, the NFL.
Essentially out of football for a few years, the XFL seemed like Bryant’s path to get back on track. Though in his 30s, he didn’t have tread on his tires and his freaky size and athleticism should’ve been enough to become an impact player against peers who largely in the XFL because they couldn’t find a spot on a 90-man roster.
But midway through the 2023 season and Bryant’s year has been quiet. Disappointing, honestly. Eight games in and Bryant has just 12 receptions for 146 yards and has yet to find the end zone, four of those receptions coming in the season opener. Here are the Vipers’ receiving stats on the season.
I would’ve never guessed a time in which Mathew Sexton was the more productive ex-Steelers’ receiver than Bryant. Sexton has more receptions and yards and until yesterday, had a longer catch on the season. Names like Jeff Badet and Geronimo Allison have been more impactful than Bryant. And Bryant was the team’s first round pick, too, so even they’re surely disappointed by how things have gone.
To Bryant’s credit, he had a 39-yard reception yesterday and converted a two-point try. But the seasonal stats don’t lie and those who have watched the game this season know his impact has been minimal.
There’s no question he had rust to knock off. Since being suspended by the NFL, he has bounced around different leagues but nothing’s stuck. He had a brief stint in the Indoor Football League, was technically in the CFL (though never played) and probably still stayed in shape on the side. This is his first true football experience in basically five seasons and that time missed can’t be overlooked. But if Bryant had hopes of returning to the NFL, this season hasn’t furthered the cause. If anything, it’s just a reminder of what missing so much of your prime does to a career. If he can’t star in the XFL, he’s not going to cut it in the NFL either.
For someone turning 32 by the end of the year, this was sort of his last shot. If he could showcase the speed and downfield ability he displayed in Pittsburgh, maybe the NFL would’ve come calling. He could’ve gotten into a camp and tried to make a roster (assuming Roger Goodell would officially let him back in, but I liked Bryant’s chances). But when you’re the sixth-best receiver on your 2-6 XFL team…the writing’s sort of on the wall.
Good on Bryant for getting back into professional football. If he was entering the NFL today, he probably never would’ve been suspended by the league now that they’ve relaxed their marijuana policy. Instead, he’ll go down as one of those “what-if” players we’ll talk about 20 years from now.