The Pittsburgh Steelers may need to draft a wide receiver in the 2016 NFL Draft. There is no doubt in anyone's mind the organization needs to focus on the defensive side of the football. Let it also be known there are certain factors which could play a role after the 2016 season is complete.
Here are the factors that could ultimately change Pittsburgh's draft process, and have them targeting a wide receiver much earlier than most would expect.
Future of Martavis Bryant is Unknown
The Steelers drafted wide receiver Martavis Bryant in the fourth-round of the 2014 NFL draft with hopes of him succeeding as the number two receiver alongside Antonio Brown. This was certainly the case until the receiver was suspended for the entire 2016 season due to violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. While fans, and even his teammates, want Bryant to stay clean, we have seen a familiar scenario with Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon, who just can't seem to stop violating the abuse policy. If this is the case with Bryant, he could be suspended again in 2017. While no one can figure out the future, we have no guarantee that Bryant ever plays another down of football again.
Markus Wheaton's Contract Year
We have seen a familiar situation with former Pittsburgh receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who was a solid player with the Steelers before shining with the Denver Broncos. The key offensive players when Sanders was in Pittsburgh were Hines Ward and Mike Wallace. He really couldn't showcase all of his skills due to the amount of talented receivers who were on the depth chart. When he left for the Broncos, the receiver core wasn't nearly as stacked as it was in Pittsburgh. This gave Sanders the opportunity to showcase his skill set while being in a new environment. Many view Markus Wheaton as replaceable and could eventually play for another organization. This is a big year for Wheaton to step up and prove himself being that this is a contract year. While Martavis Bryant is suspended, Wheaton's goal is to contribute and succeed as the number two receiver alongside Antonio Brown.
This leaves Pittsburgh with AB, Coates, DHB in 2017
Hypothetically speaking, if Martavis Bryant were to get suspended for the entire 2017 season and Markus Wheaton moves on to another organization, this would leave the Pittsburgh Steelers with a very weak wide receiver core. Antonio Brown will continue to shine as the number one receiver on the roster, Sammie Coates still has to prove himself, and lastly, Darrius Heyward-Bey who reminds me of Sanders, will need to step up and at least become the extremely fast, vertical receiver that Bryant once was.
Drafting a Wide Receiver
In the first and second round of the NFL draft there is no reason for Pittsburgh to not focus solely on the defensive side of the ball. When the organization is on the clock with the third round with the 89th overall selection, I wouldn't be surprised to see a wide receiver come off the board.
Keep in mind that the organization has the fourth, sixth, and two seventh round picks to have the opportunity to take defensive players. In the third round Oklahoma's WR Sterling Shepard could potentially be on the board. If this player is still in play, I would pull the trigger immediately. In his last season with the Sooners, Shepard played in all 14 games, registered 86 receptions for a grand total of 1,288 yards, and earned 11 touchdowns. This is just one player that could potentially be worth a third-round pick while still drafting defensive players with other selections, and help solidify the WR depth chart for years to come.