Another year, another head-scratching Steelers second round draft pick.
Yes, whether it’s taking Jason Worilds instead of Sean Lee, Le’Veon Bell instead of Eddie Lacy or Mike Adams instead of anyone else, it seems the second round has become the most rage-inducing for people who take to their laptops and smartphones to voice their displeasure after that pick is announced.
Friday night was perhaps no exception, as Pittsburgh selected receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster out of USC in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
So, why a receiver and not, say, a cornerback?
For one thing, there was a record run on defensive backs in the first two rounds, with 19 going before the Steelers could make their second choice at spot number 62.
For another thing, Smith-Schuster was just a really productive college football player, catching 213 passes in three seasons for a major program in a big-time conference (the Pac-12).
A third reason was just great value. I mean, the draft gurus are always preaching the importance of value over need; with just five receivers taken over the first 61 selections acting as a great contrast to those 19 defensive backs, Smith-Schuster, who graded out in the second round by most, offered value over the need to perhaps reach for a corner with a third round resume.
And fourth, who said there wasn’t a need for a receiver?
Did you see the Tweet by Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant following the selection of Smith-Schuster on Friday?
It’s since been deleted, but thanks to an anonymous source (my cousin), I have it word-for-word: “lol that’s Sammie coates replacement not minds take it how you want to I am back.” (Yes, that’s right, mere days after Bryant was conditionally reinstated after a year-long suspension for getting high, he’s Tweeting like he’s, well.......)
Anyway, not only did Bryant throw shade (a 2017 term for hatin’) at his teammate, Coates, he went old-school 2003 and threw him under the bus.
What’s that saying, Million dollar body, but a 10 cent head? For all the talk of how Bryant might be the most physically gifted receiver in the entire league, let’s just say it was probably no mistake that he lasted until the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Fact is, even if Bryant had totally deleted all of his social media accounts before Friday or spent the entire offseason using them to promote volunteer work with kids, he’d still be a player the team couldn’t entirely trust until he showed he was more than just a freakish athlete blessed with physical gifts (missing 20 out of a possible 48 career games because of drug suspensions has a way of eroding organizational trust in a player).
And let’s remember why Pittsburgh drafted Coates in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft in the first place. It wasn’t just because they wanted to have an entire stable of big, physical deep-threats at the receiver position; they did so because, unlike the rest of us, they already knew Bryant would miss the first four games of the upcoming year after failing a drug test.
Over the first five games of the 2016 season, when Coates was hauling in long bomb after long bomb and mostly making everyone forget about Bryant’s all-world talent, one has to wonder if the Steelers were ready to forget about the hassle that had already been and could in the future be No. 10’s promising but extremely troubled career in Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately, Coates soon began a down-word spiral caused by injuries and a lack of confidence, things which basically derailed what started out as a promising sophomore campaign. Along with Coates’ struggles, were the continued injury problems for now former Steeler Markus Wheaton, along with a lengthy absence for veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Bryant’s suspension and the injury problems suffered by those who were supposed to be the next men up, led to a void in talent at the receiver position, a void that was filled by Eli Rogers, Demarcus Ayers and Cobi Hamilton.
This void in receiving talent (not to mention the season-long physical ailments suffered by newly-signed tight end Ladarius Green) didn’t do superstar receiver Antonio Brown any good, as he saw a reduction from the previous year in receptions (106 vs. 136) and yards (1,284 vs. 1834).
Despite quarterback Ben Roethlisberger professing a desire for the team to score 30 points a game before the start of the season, the actual number was just under 25; and by the playoffs, the Steelers passing game was a shell of what it perhaps could have been with optimal talent at the receiver position.
So, yes, there are many reasons why the Steelers selected JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. One of those reasons could be because he was just too good to pass up. Another may have to do with a lack of confidence in Sammie Coates.
But if I’m Martavis Bryant, I wouldn’t get too confident about my long-term future with the Steelers.