While it would be fair to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 roster looks to be set at several positions, there are still a handful of starting roles yet to be decided and a number of backup up jobs remain up for grabs.
Over the coming weeks, BTSC editor Jeff Hartman and myself will take a look at some of the more obvious key names that will be fighting position battles throughout minicamp, OTAs and training camp later in the year, each taking a different side in the fight and providing our thoughts on why our pick will be the winner.
So far we have weighed in on the impending battles between quarterbacks Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph, running backs Jaylen Samuel and Benny Snell Jr. wide receivers James Washington and Donte Moncrief, tackles Matt Feiler and Chukwuma Okorafor, linebackers Devin Bush and Mark Barron and cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton. Today we move onto two more wide receivers.
Eli Rogers vs. Ryan Switzer
If not for an ACL injury Eli Rogers suffered during the playoffs at the end of 2017, there is a good chance the Steelers never make a trade with the Oakland Raiders to acquire Ryan Switzer just days before the 2018 regular season began. Rogers would open the year on the physically unable to perform list, only finally activated for the final three games of the season, while Switzer would feature in all 16 games as the slot receiver in a role previously owned by Rogers.
Switzer’s versatility made him a valuable asset to the Steelers during his debut season; he took on the duties of punt and kick returner and even saw some snaps out of the backfield as a running back. And for a player who had barely seen the playbook before his first game in the Black and Gold, it would be fair to say that Switzer was one of the more pleasant surprises of the season.
Limited to just 12 receptions, Rogers looked very much like the player he had been in 2016 when he finally returned to the field, noticeably impacting the number of snaps Switzer saw once he was cleared to play and eating into his receptions.
Despite the loss of Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh are still relatively loaded at wide receiver and there is no guarantee both players make the final 53-man roster this year. With JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Donte Moncrief and Diontae Johnson all seemingly locks to make the team, there is a possibility one loses out if the coaching staff decides to only keep five wideouts.
While not as flashy, this might just be the toughest battle to predict on the 2019 Steelers roster. While I think both make the team, I am not sure who will actually see more playing time this season as the primary slot receiver.
Rogers has the longer tenure within the Steelers’ offense, but Ben Roethlisberger showed a genuine trust in Switzer as a receiver in 2018. Throw in the fact Rogers hardly played last season, as he continued to rehab his injured knee, and you have a difficult question on your hands.
For what it is worth, I think Switzer wins this job. I remember watching Switzer play at North Carolina and thinking he would be the perfect fit for the Steelers’ offense. Honestly, I feel he could be the Steelers version of Julian Edelman for the Patriots. A slot receiver who is smaller, but tough and runs good routes. If he and Roethlisberger can pick up where they left off in 2018, and add onto that rapport, there is no doubt they could have a serious weapon on their hands in 2019.
With that said, I think both players make the team and are utilized in unique ways to keep defenses guessing and to create mismatches.
Acknowledging the rapport that Switzer built with Roethlisberger in a relatively short period of time, it is hard to ignore how quickly both Big Ben and the coaching staff returned to Rogers once he was healthy. Recording double the receptions and seeing 29 more snaps in the three games they were both available for speaks volumes about how the team views Rogers.
The decision by the front office to re-sign him to a two year deal when he was already under contract for 2019 after his deal had already tolled should also be an indicator of how much he is valued.
While Switzer’s skills as a return man should not be underestimated, the addition of rookie third-round pick Johnson may take that role away from him this year. If it is a straight battle as to who is the better slot receiver, that could be a battle Rogers might win.
At two inches taller than Switzer, Rogers perhaps offers a better target that the 5-foot-8 former North Carolina product, although their pro day and combine numbers would suggest they are fairly similar athletes based on their measurables. Rogers enjoys a slight advantage in arm length and vertical, while Switzer was a fraction quicker coming out of college and has larger hands.
Ultimately, I can see both players making the team and seeing significant playing time, but in terms of who will be listed as the starting slot wide receiver, my money would be on the more experienced Rogers.