I suppose it's hard to label your #1 draft pick who finished the year with fewer than 50 receptions a 'surprise', but I think if you analyze Holmes' first year as a pro-dating all the way back to training camp-you can argue that he had a pleasantly surprising first year in the NFL.
Before Holmes even stepped on the field, we were hearing about him for the wrong reasons: legal issues. Although nothing much came of it, Holmes was arrested for disorderly conduct in Miami. (Speaking of which: Does anyone else feel a disproportionately large number of off-field incidents happen in Miami or the state of Florida at large?) After that incident, Holmes kept his nose clean and was a good teamate by all accounts. His intensity and prepartaion left something to be desired in the first quarter of the season, but improved dramatically as the year progressed. And that's what's important for rookies. Improvment, hard work, and an awareness that you're just a small fish in a gigantic pond of talent, competitiveness, and desire. Holmes seems to have grasped these concepts by the time the ball was snapped for the last time in 2006.
On to training camp... Holmes had a good, but not great, training camp. Again, it didn't help that Big Ben was injured for most of the offseason through the first quarter of the season, and it resulted in a lack of timing between Roethlisberger and Holmes. Although Roethlisberger had experience throwing to undersized receivers when Randle-El donned the black and gold, he's been a much more accurate passer when throwing to the larger bodies of Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and Plaxico Burres. Simply put, it took Big Ben some time to get accustomed to Holmes' speed, size, and route-running.
When it did finally come together towards the end of the season, the results were more than promising. The highlight of the year for Holmes would have to be his game-winning TD reception against the Bengals in OT, but he made significant contributions in other games as well. His punt return against Carolina didn't mean much considering the score, but the play proved Holmes had been working on improving his special teams play. Remember, earlier in the year, he struggled with holding on to the ball, as well as with knowing when to let the ball go, and when to signal for a fair catch. The point is tried to get better, kept his head up, and capitalized when it counted during a game.
I'm excited about Holmes' potential in Pittsburgh. He may not become quite as dangerous as the Redskins' Santana Moss, but there's no reason to believe he won't continue to rip off big plays at multiple points throughout the forthcoming seasons. The man is just that fast and explosive with his first step.
If Holmes can continue to improve his route-running and spend ample time watching film this summer, I expect him to increase his catches to somewhere in the 65-70 range. It will be interesting to see who is brought in to coordinate our offense and how they will utilize Holmes' unique talents. Here's hoping Holmes is happy with his moderate taste of rookie success, yet aware of the vast room for improvement for both him and the Steelers offense in 2007.