At the close of the Steelers 2015 season, wide receiver was one of Pittsburgh’s decided areas of strength.
Since then Martavis Bryant has been suspended and will not play in 2016. Losing a budding star like Bryant deals a blow to the Steelers depth chart at wide receiver, but how should that blow impact their plans for the 2016 NFL Draft?
Steelers Depth Chart @ Wide Receiver Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starters
“Starting” wide receiver might be a relative term in the Steelers offense these days, but there is no doubt Antonio Brown remains Pittsburgh’s one receiver. Heading into the season some saber metrics suggested that Antonio Brown had already reached his peak. Fortunately, no one told Brown that as his career continued on its Hall of Fame trajectory.
- Opposite Brown is Markus Wheaton, who is too often overlooked, and perhaps that’s a good thing.
Markus Wheaton had to split time with Martavis Bryant during 2015, and saw his start and target totals drop. And while his pass catches and catch % dropped, Wheaton stepped it up at several critical points late in the season, and his yards-per-catch and touchdown’s scored increased.
The Pittsburgh Steelers offense remains in good hands with Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton as their starting wide receivers.
Steelers Depth Cart @ Wide Receiver Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups
Behind Brown and Wheaton the Steelers have Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates. Just two off seasons ago, Kevin Colbert plucked Heyward-Bey off of the NFL’s scrap heap. In 2014, Heyward-Bey buckled his chin strap and earned a spot for himself playing special teams.
- You cannot say enough about a former 7th overall first round pick wide receiver who reinvents his lease on an NFL career in the trenches.
Darrius Heyward-Bey only got 5 balls thrown his way in 2014, but he worked his way into the team’s number 3 wide receiver in 2015, and performed well, showing an impressive ability to stretch the field. The Steelers rewarded Heyward-Bey with a 3 year contract, so expect to see him stick around.
The Steelers turned heads when they drafted Sammie Coates in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but Bryant’s suspension clarified the motive behind that move. Coates only had 2 targets and one catch in the Steelers 2015 regular season, but showed a lot of promise with his two catches on three targets for 61 yards in the Steelers playoff loss to the Broncos.
- The Steelers also have Levi Norwood, Tobias Palmer, Issac Blakney, Shakim Phillips and Eli Rogers on their roster.
Norwood was signed because of his kick return ability, Phillips spent training camp with the Steelers and spent the season on their practice squad. Eli Rodgers spent training camp with the Steelers, but was placed on the reserve/injured list, but when no one took him his rights reverted to the Steelers. Tobias Palmer has some NFL game experience having played in 2013 with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Wide Receiver
- The blunt truth is, the Steelers will struggle to match that effort in 2016.
The impact of Heath Miller’s retirement will be incalculable. Throwing the ball to Heath Miller was about as close to a guaranteed catch as you can get in the NFL. Factor in the loss of a dynamic playmaker like Bryant, and Todd Haley has some holes to fill.
- But don’t expect Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert to fill those holes early in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Compared to other spots on the depth chart, the Steelers remain pretty deep at wide receiver, with both Wheaton, Heyward-Bey and Coates all showing remaining “upside.” The Steelers would be foolhardy to ignore a mid to late-round prospects who falls to them, especially if he can return kicks, but that wide out might stand head and shoulders over players at other positions on the board.
Therefore, the Steelers 2016 draft need at wide receiver must be considered Moderate Low.