The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first two picks of the 2017 NFL Draft created some instantly memorable matchups on their schedule this season. The first, of course, is first-round pick T.J. Watt’s matchup against the Houston Texans and his big brother, J.J. Watt.
The second is more subtle, but a lot more entertaining: new Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster potentially lining up across from HaHa Clinton-Dix.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Names aside, though, what jumps out about this pick is how unexpected it was. With needs at corner, safety and tight end, the Steelers instead went for security at wide receiver, where they already have Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers, and might have Martavis Bryant, if he can keep his nose clean going forward.
On the surface, it’s a crowded lot. So much for anyone trying to make it into receivers coach Richard Mann’s position meetings as an undrafted free agent.
But the need at receiver was a little bigger than it may have looked, based on sheer numbers. Coates suffered what turned out to be a significant injury to his hand last season, and his production didn’t just drop, it plummeted halfway through the Earth’s mantle. Despite surgery to repair it, there is no guarantee he returns well. As for Bryant, he’s one more slip-up away from a multi-year ban from the league.
And let’s not forget: depth at cornerback and safety is great in this draft. Depth at wide receiver, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as good as we get deeper into this draft. Given all that, the Smith-Schuster pick makes a whole lot more sense.
And it’s not like they picked up some scrub. Smith-Schuster lacks deep-threat speed, but he uses his size exceedingly well to shield defenders and give him a clear shot at the ball. With long arms, combined with his 6’-1” height, he has tremendous length, too, which works if you are a true hands catcher, which Smith-Schuster absolutely is. Rarely do you ever see the ball get into his body. He has tremendous body control in the air, and gets his head around to see the catch into his hands. If he was a little faster, he may have been a first-round pick.
The bottom line with Smith-Schuster is that the Steelers got themselves a blue-collar, technical receiver with a good head on his shoulders, who could very well push Sammie Coates out the door after a single year. At best, Coates finds himself at the bottom of the depth chart. All of the biggest complaints about Coates — catches with his body, mental lapses — are addressed by Smith-Schuster. And, while he’s not going to replace Bryant, he is solid insurance in case Bryant can’t figure out how to adult. The best-case scenario would be one where Brown and Bryant were the long-term starters, with Smith-Schuster and Coates making each other better through competition for playing time.
On many levels, this feels like an unnecessary luxury pick. But, given Coates’ injury and Bryant’s history, it’s not that much of a stretch to call this a need pick. And, considering they picked a true technician of a wide receiver in Smith-Schuster, they at least got the best option available. Maybe the best player available at pick number 62, but that’s debatable. In the end, it’s a moot point. The Steelers got a very talented player, despite the need being questionable.
And at least that November 26th prime-time matchup with the Packers will have an entertaining story line.