First of all, I already know what some of you are thinking, and the answer is no, Ben Roethlisberger is not on the naughty list. It's been quite a few years since Ben's name has shown up on that list, thankfully. Ben has been blessed with many gifts throughout his career, but one wish he has made known on multiple occasions has yet to become a reality. Ben has hinted that he would like to have a taller receiver at his disposal, but Santa must not be getting Ben's letters.
The Steelers have tried on a few occasions to grant Ben his wish, but have failed miserably in the process. The problem is, although the Steelers excel at recognizing wide receiver talent at every level of the draft, this ability doesn't seem to apply to receivers with length. Or at least pass catchers who understand how to utilize their God given height. You can't teach height, and seemingly the Steelers are incapable of teaching taller men how to best use theirs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have provided Ben with a plethora of talented wideouts to throw the old pigskin too during his career, that is for certain. Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Juju Smith-Schuster to name a few. The list is impressive, with a couple of them more than deserving consideration for Canton, and young Juju certainly building his resume. There are a couple of traits all these men have in common, one being they have been incredibly productive playing with Big Ben, the other being they are all of similar stature.
All these guys are vertically challenged. Compared to the behemoths that keep popping up all around the league, these talented gentlemen are rather short.
My wife and I were watching the Chargers/Chiefs game the other night and my wife asked me who the guy was that looked like the Predator from the movie. I told her that was Kelvin Benjamin, the definition of a huge wide receiver, but he was a box of Little Debbie cakes away from being a tight end. His career has been derailed by injuries and suspect QB play, but at one time he really knew how to use his size to make plays.
Why would Ben even want a taller receiver when he has been surrounded by so many talented receivers? Because taller receivers have a larger catch radius.
Let's take Phillip Rivers as an example. Rivers has been having a MVP caliber season and the Chargers are tied for the best record in the AFC. Rivers is having the best touchdown to interception ratio of his career, in no small part due to his stable of extremely tall wideouts. Five of the six wide receivers on the Chargers roster stand 6'2" or taller, and their best receiver, Keenan Allen, stands 6'2" but plays even bigger. Compared to Rivers skyscrapers Ben's been throwing passes to the Smurf Brigade.
Two or three times a game Rivers will be under duress and simply throw the ball up high and let one of his big receivers go get the ball. Many of his touchdown passes during his career have come in this manner on throws to his future HOF tight end Antonio Gates. Now that Gates is nearing the end of his career, the Chargers have supplied Rivers with a group of individuals with similar attributes.
Rivers has utilized these qualities with impressive results. He completed a huge third down play under pressure against the Steelers by throwing late and high across the middle into triple coverage. That is almost always a bad idea, but his receiver leapt up, caught the ball, absorbed the impact, and completed the catch. First down, that's all that matters.
The Steelers have tried to provide Ben with some taller targets over the last few years, but without much success. Martavis Bryant was tall, lanky, and fast, but played much smaller than his 6'4" frame would suggest. He seemed incapable of high pointing the ball, or catching any ball thrown higher than eye level. He was more likely to catch a ball against his gluteus maximus than any pass over his head. Maybe the biggest waste of talent to enter the league since Chris Henry.
The Steelers drafted Sammie Coates and picked Justin Hunter up out of the bargain bin, but again no luck. Coates looked promising at first, but caught a case of the dropsies even before he started breaking his fingers. What can be said about Hunter that hasn't already been said? How about this old classic, "Looks like Tarzan, but plays like Jane."
With the defense obviously taking precedent this off season during free agency and the draft, I don't know if Ben will ever see his wish come true. Santa may be his last chance, so be good Ben, Santa is always watching.