The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiving corps used to be known as one of the best in the NFL — then 2016 happened.
Martavis Bryant was suspended for the entire season (possibly more), Markus Wheaton was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, Darrius Heyward-Bey was hampered by a foot injury the majority of the season, Sammie Coates broke his hand after his breakout game and Eli Rogers even suffered an injured foot which saw him miss time as well.
So, what exactly can we expect from this group heading into 2017 outside of Antonio Brown?
Before answering that question, let’s dive into the depth chart, free agents and question marks.
Pending Free Agents:
Other Question Marks:
A lot of the 2017 prospects for the Steelers rely solely on Martavis Bryant’s availability. The tall and talented wide receiver has officially applied for reinstatement, and looks to be on track to return to the team, but for how long? After a previous four-game suspension Bryant was unable to keep himself on the straight and narrow and was then suspended for the season.
If Bryant is unable to play next season, for whatever reason, the team’s depth chart changes dramatically; however, if Bryant returns, there is little doubt the team’s wide receiving corps will be one of the better units again in the NFL.
With Bryant and Brown, you have a legitimate set of No. 1 and No. 2 receivers on the field. This then allows players like Demarcus Ayers and Eli Rogers to patrol the slot while Cobi Hamilton, Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey battle for the next available spot on the team’s game day roster. This is assuming Markus Wheaton walks in free agency.
If Bryant is not reinstated, or slips up again, the entire complexity of the position is altered. You essentially revert back to the same depth chart you had for the majority of 2016.
With that said, Coates was showing tremendous promise before injuring his hand against the New York Jets, but his inconsistencies raise major red flags as to if he can be the team’s No. 2 receiver they desperately needed last year, and would need in this specific scenario.
I see Markus Wheaton leaving via free agency, and I see Bryant being reinstated back into the NFL, and the Steelers depth chart. The next discussion becomes whether he can remain in the program, and if so, who will be the other receivers to make the team.
Eli Rogers more than proved his worth last year, and Ayers looks like an up and coming player which the size, speed and versatility the Steelers love. I think he is safe. It then becomes a battle between Heyward-Bey, Coates and Hamilton to round out the final two spots, if the Steelers keep 6 wide receivers on their roster.
For as good as Hamilton was on occasion last year, Heyward-Bey’s team-first mentality and special teams play has DHB staying over Hamilton. Coates, if healthy, also proved just how good he can be, and his play making ability will likely give him another shot to prove his worth in his third year in the league. Hamilton would then be the odd man out of this equation.
2017 Draft Outlook:
I don’t foresee the Steelers looking hard at a wide receiver in the draft, unless they don’t feel Bryant will be returning to the team anytime soon. Of course there are prospects you can’t pass on, and there are always those mid-to-late round picks who could end up beating out a veteran for a spot on the roster. However, there are more glaring needs for this team than at the wide receiver position.