There are few things in life that you can count on like the knowledge that the Steelers will select a wide receiver in every draft class. Not only do they always pick one, but they are extraordinarily successful doing so. The assembly line of talent keeps moving as the Steelers excel in identifying undiscovered talent and uniting them with their future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Going into the 2021 NFL Draft I fully expected the yearly occurrence to continue, even though the Steelers currently have their deepest and most talented receiving core in years, going five deep. Plenty of pundits felt the same way as yours truly. The Steelers would adhere to their annual tradition and select another talented young pass catcher, especially with JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington becoming free agents after the 2021 season.
There was no shortage of speculation about what type of prospect the Steelers might consider targeting. The Steelers already have a well rounded group: Smith-Schuster is physical and clutch, Diontae Johnson is perpetually open, Claypool is freakishly talented, James Washington has a knack for the dramatic, and Ray Ray McCloud uses his quickness in a myriad of ways. Kevin Colbert and company even picked up a couple of undrafted free agents while perusing through the pro day circuit, signing diminutive speedster Matthew Sexton and versatile Tyler Simmons. That's quite the smorgasbord of talented receivers.
If the Steelers were going to draft a receiver, what type of skill set would they be looking for that they didn't already have in abundance. Most of us armchair General Managers had the same idea, and the mock drafts reflected that common thought process. The Steelers only perceived need was someone who could take the top off the defense, so plenty of deep threats with exceptional speed were mocked to the Steelers in the middle to late rounds. Those expectations never came to fruition, and the Steelers failed to draft a wide receiver for the first time in years. Too much talent already on the roster, coupled with too many other needs without enough picks to fill them all.
Not long after the draft had ended, news started to trickle in reporting undrafted free agents that had signed with the Steelers. One such signing immediately caught my eye; Kent State wide receiver Isaiah McKoy. He had been mocked to the Steelers in plenty of sixth or seventh round scenarios leading up to the draft, causing me to peruse through what turned out to be a glorified highlight reel. What I witnessed was truly impressive, even if he was playing in the Steelers secret little pipeline of undiscovered hidden talent; the MAC conference.
McKoy looked like a receiver with above average size and playing speed. His long strides allowed him to easily overwhelm and get behind overmatched defensive backs with regularity. He looked like the exact type of receiver that might have some small chance at making the Steelers practice squad, considering the insane amount of talent on hand at the position. Especially if he could offer special teams value. Then I read his pro day numbers.
McKoy measured in at 6'2" and 200 lbs., so his apparent size and length where inline with his tape. Sadly the rest of his measurables were not, explaining the reasoning for him going undrafted. All his speed and explosion scores were below average. His 4.68 forty and 29" vertical were particularly puzzling. How could the wide receiver blowing past defensive backs so easily on film be the same guy who posted testing numbers usually reserved for moderately athletic inside linebackers? I adhere to the narrative that many players simply play much faster than they test, but a 4.7 deep threat possessing the big play potential displayed by McKoy is unheard of. I went searching for answers, and I have a theory.
McKoy appears to struggle with his maturity and decision making, which may have affected his pre-draft preparation. I came to that conclusion based on some concerns which show up on his tape. He drew two separate penalties on two similar long touchdown receptions where he started taunting the cornerback after the play, once by aggressively pressing the ball into the corner's midsection right in front of the official. This type of action screams immaturity and selfishness in my opinion, putting your moment in the spotlight ahead of your teammates by losing control and penalizing your team.
Somehow all that enthusiasm and intensity is nowhere to be found in his blocking. He lacks consistent effort and hustle on running plays and plays where he is unlikely to be targeted. This leads to a lack of focus and concentration, leading to plenty of dropped passes. This is most evident in the fact he does a solid job on contested catches, but struggles with the routine targets. His lack of effort and physicality will greatly impact his special teams value, which is his best chance of making the practice squad.
In conclusion, Isaiah McKoy shows more NFL caliber potential at times than his testing measurables would suggest. If he shows the maturity to take full advantage of the opportunity being given to him by the Steelers, McKoy could prove to be a pleasant surprise and make his way on the practice squad. It's definitely a long shot, but at least it's a shot.