Our second positional breakdown (our first, tight ends, can be found here) brings us to a group that just might be the most interesting group on the entire Steelers' roster. Among the Steelers' wide receivers are two established veterans, including one who might go down as of the best ever at his position, and one exciting rookie. Together the team's top three receivers combined for over 3,100 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Age and 2009 Stats: 33 years old (3/8/76) - 95 receptions for 1,167 yards (12.3 avg) and six touchdowns
Contract Status: Signed through 2013
2009 Analysis: Just like the Energizer Bunny, Hines keeps putting up productive season after productive season, but it doesn't stop there. Despite being well into his 30's Ward actually had arguably his best season since 2003. He also caught 69% of the passes thrown his way, one of the better numbers posted by wide receivers, and almost 60% of his receptions went for first downs. As we know though, Ward's game isn't just about catching first downs or touchdowns, he's still a dynamic leader on and off the field as well as a devastating blocker in the running game.
2010 Outlook: At some point Ward will slow down but back to back 1,000 yard seasons suggest that he's still got some gas in the tank. Considering that his game was never based on speed, it's reasonable to think that he's got another couple of productive seasons left, especially considering the chemistry and he and Ben Roethlisberger share.
Age and 2009 Stats: 25 years old (3/3/84) - 79 receptions for 1248 yards (15.8 avg) and five touchdowns
Contract Status: Signed through 2010
2009 Analysis: Holmes just keeps getting better and better. He set career highs in receptions and yards this season and might have finally wrestled the #1 receiver role away from Ward. During the '09 season Holmes took roughly 100 more snaps than Ward and with the tuteledge of his elder statesman, Holmes is becoming quite the well rounded reciever. He was consistent this season with multiple catches and at least 50 yards in all but two games this season and given his age and the current offensive philosophy, he seems poised for many spectacular seasons in the future.
2010 Outlook: The biggest question facing Holmes heading into 2010 is when will the Steelers lock him up long term (something that Ed Bouchette thinks will happen very soon), but regardless his play on the field should continue to be special. Holmes will always be a legit deep threat that will cause defense's some matchup problems but his improvements in route running and ball control are helping him become a complete receiver.
Age and 2009 Stats: 23 years old (8/1/86) - 39 receptions for 756 yards (19.4 avg) and six touchdowns
Contract Status: Signed through 2011
2009 Analysis: Wallace just completed one of the best rookie seasons by any Steelers player in recent memory and considering that his name was called until deep into the 3rd round, that's an amazing accomplishment. Only three rookie wide outs total more than his 756 yards, and they were all first rounders, and only one rookie had more touchdowns. Wallace had his rookie moments, like the fumble in Kansas City, but overall he had a tremendous season for a franchise that very rarely allows rookies onto the field.
2010 Outlook: Wallace's future is as bright as any member of this organization. His world class speed makes him unique and with the talent and willingness to teach around him, his potential is limitless. He won't have to look very far to find a road map to sustained success considering that he possesses much of the same skill set as Holmes and they had fairly similar rookie seasons. At this point the only thing that might hurt Wallace's future is if the Steelers offense changed philosphies and actually employed a running back and more traditional I-formation sets instead of three wide looks, but for now that seems like a rather far-fetched dream.
Age and 2009 Stats: 25 years old (12/25/84) - one catch for five yards
Contract Status: Signed through 2011
2009 Analysis: For all intents and purposes Sweed didn't even have a 2009 season. He had just one catch but he added another big dropped pass to his resume. If not for a dropped pass in the first Bengals game, maybe Sweed's season and the Steelers as a whole turns out much different but his inconsistencies combined with a nagging foot injury and a mysterious illness continue to plague the former second round pick.
2010 Outlook: First and foremost, Sweed's future depends on whatever "non-football illness" ended his season. Maybe his "illness" was just a lack of concentration and Tomlin finally had enough or maybe he really did come down with something weird but for now all we can do is wait until we find out exactly what we're dealing with. As far as his on the field problems, the biggest issue still seems to be in his head. What we do know is that he has the physical ability to get open against NFL cornerbacks, but the ability to consistently catch a ball seems to allude him at this point. Some might point to Nate Washington as an athletic wide out who had problems catching the ball early in his career and while the team was patient during his development, Washington was an undrafted free agent without any real expectations. At least at for now we can say Sweed's contributions can't get much worse.
Age and 2009 Stats: 38 years old (11/20/71) - No stats as a Steeler
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2009 Analysis: Galloway was signed when Sweed was sent to IR with a mysterious illness although he was never actually active for a game.
2010 Outlook: Galloway's more likely to retire than end up on anyone's roster in 2010 and if by chance he hangs on somewhere, it'll likely be in a very limited role.
Age and 2009 Stats: 24 years old (5/3/85) - No stats
Contract Status: Signed a one year future's contract
2009 Analysis: Chery split the season between the Panthers and Steelers' practice squad.
2010 Outlook: Chery is, at best, a special teams ace and if he finds his way onto the 2010 roster, it'll be in that capacity. Here's what we said about him on January 7th:
Chery was another December addition to the Steelers practice squad. He was undrafted last year and actually chose the Panthers over the Steelers after the draft, where he spent most of the season on their practice squad. He played his college ball at Louisiana-Lafayette and almost all of his value is on special teams. He played on every single special teams until all four years he was in school and led the team in special teams tackles each season. He's also blocked two punts and was a part time kick returner.
Age and 2009 Stats: 22 years old (6/11/87) - one catch for 14 yards
Contract Status: Undisclosed contract but at worst he's an exclusive rights free agent
2009 Analysis: Grisham spent most of the season on the Steelers' practice squad before getting called up to the roster in December. He took over the fourth receiver role after Galloway was signed and played in the final four regular season games. He caught his first career pass against the Ravens.
2010 Outlook: Grisham's role in 2010 might be to replace Sweed as the #4 receiver but he'd most likely have to perform considerably better over the summer. It's also possible he could slip in on a special team's ace role but in the end his most logical role will be back on the practice squad.