Second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant was expected to be a strong contributor to the Pittsburgh Steelers offense this season after he served his four-game suspension. Instead, Bryant has only had a few standout games and in recent weeks has not seen much playing time at all.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said the issue was one of toughness, telling 93.7 the Fan Pittsburgh via ESPN, "You've got to toughen up. You've got to get tough and you've got to make tough plays and you've got to make tough catches and you have to find ways to do everything you can to help this team."
In addition to concerns about his toughness, Bryant has also dropped eight passes this season, a statistic that places him eighth in the league. In 2011, Mike Wallace had six drops on 113 targets and 72 completions. In 2012, he dropped six passes on 119 targets and 64 completions. Those drops earned Wallace a reputation of being unreliable, and fans began to grow frustrated in his decline in performance.
What is going on with Martavis Bryant? Is he in the midst of a sophomore slump, or has he had a strong season that was simply marred by injury?
BTSC community member Barry Bibler a retired Army veteran from Salem, Oregon and regular contributor Dani Bostick take a look.
Barry Bibler Point: Martavis Bryant has problems beyond his injury
As I watch my beloved Steelers play ball each week especially the second half of the season, it is now impossible for me to think that Martavis Bryant is not just a two trick pony. The occasional successful end around and a wide open deep pass. The following few paragraphs I will explain myself.
He has dropped so many passes that average receivers are expected to grab and almost never comes up with the positive result in a combative catch when covered by a DB. I have often joked that his receiving gloves are coated with butter. Most of us Steelers fans thought at one time this kid was the savior to when the passing game would be struggling. I still want to think that but right now he is (to me) in a prove yourself or move on situation.
It would be a lot easier for the team to or him to use a neck issue/minor injury to bench him in the place of DHB who did pretty well against Cleveland on January 3. I hate to bash any player in a disrespectful manner so I will say that now that I believe with his off the field issues, and on the field struggles I question his mental and physical preparedness and ability to carry this team when his number is called upon. I would love for him to prove me wrong and would apologize to him personally for my doubts. you constantly hear people bashing Antwon Blake for his level of play but never hear a reason or as in this situation to me an excuse (neck issue).
Dani Bostick's Counterpoint: Martavis Bryant is awesome
Wide receiver Martavis Bryant has tallied 765 yards in just 12 games, a fine performance by any standard. He has had three particularly excellent games, one in October against the Cardinals when he had 137 yards; another in the November 15 game against the Cleveland Browns when he totaled an astounding 178 yards; and, a 114-yard game against the Indianapolis Colts on December 2.
This season he caught 50 passes out of 92 targets. He also had 6 touchdowns. In 2014, Bryant's rookie season, he was targeted 49 times and caught 26 of them. Bryant was not an immediate contributor to the team in 2014, but was able to end the season with 549 yards over ten games. That year, howeve,r he only had three dropped passes.
Bryant's completion percentage is similar to third-round draft pick and fellow second-year player Markus Wheaton who has caught 44 passes on 79 targets for 749 yards. Over 200 of those yards were from a single game against the Seattle Seahawks, otherwise Wheaton has made steady, not flashy, contributions to the offense. He also only had two dropped passes this season.
Bryant's height and speed have made him a formidable threat on the offense. He is not the perfect receiver. He has dropped catchable passes and occasionally ran wrong routes. To be a true superstar in the NFL, Bryant will need to become more accurate and dependable. Nonetheless, Bryant still had a productive season and was a true asset to the team.
The injury rate in the NFL is 100%. If you play professional football, you will get injured at some point. It is entirely plausible that Bryant has slipped because he is in pain. Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Isaac Redman played with an injured neck in his final season with the Steelers amid much criticism. He described his struggles in a BTSC interview from this past offseason. Spoiler: Neck injuries are extremely painful and can limit a player's productivity.
In sum, Martavis Bryant's struggles could be explained by injury. He was also sick going into the Week 17 game. He dropped fewer passes in 2014, and had some astoundingly productive games in 2015, so several bad games should not taint his legacy or reduce his awesomeness in the eyes of fans.
If you have an idea for Point / Counterpoint, pitch it to Dani Bostick on Twitter. @danibostick