The Pittsburgh Steelers made a surprising move when they placed this year’s third round draft pick, Sammie Coates, on their inactive list against the New England Patriots on Thursday night. It was thought by many that he would be a big contributor on offense after it was announced that fellow wide receiver Martavis Bryant would be suspended for the Steelers first four games after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Instead it would be receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Tyler Murphy receiving snaps behind starters Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton. Heyward-Bey caught four passes on seven targets for 58 yards while Murphy caught one pass for sixteen yards in the later stages of the contest. If they had plans for Murphy to barely make a contribution on offense, then why not give Coates the opportunity to get some time in a regular season game?
As unfortunate as the situation with Bryant is, this is the perfect chance to get their rookie wide receiver some much-needed time on the field while they are still able to do so. Once Bryant returns they will not have many windows of opportunity to do so. It is all but certain that Murphy will be cut to make room for Bryant once he is off suspension, and it is much more sensible to put their future investment in the game instead.
It is no secret that the Steelers have one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the NFL. While keeping this young group of wide outs together would be the best case scenario going into the future, it seems highly unlikely they will be able to do so. With the temptations of the world on the outside, and the lure of money from within the league, there are many instances that could occur to divide the Steelers’ receivers, in which a prepared Sammie Coates would definitely be needed.
Markus Wheaton has starting wide receiver material written all over him. The way he has developed since his rookie season is the type of first round production you want to see out of your third round draft pick selections. Starting opposite of Antonio Brown for the next three weeks will give the rest of the 31 teams in the league a view of what he can bring to their team’s offense in the future.
Wheaton has two more years with the Steelers but, once the start of free agency in 2017 rolls around, it will be hard to keep hold of this talented receiver. Giving Coates these early snaps and building a rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger early in his career will go a long way in alleviating the sting of potentially losing Wheaton in the future.
The news of Martavis Bryant’s off field activities were surprising, but not unheard of. The Cleveland Browns know much of what it is like to lose a talented receiver to unwise personal decisions. Josh Gordon could have been an amazingly talented wide out in Cleveland for the next decade, but, instead, he has found himself expelled from the league.
Though all of Steelers’ Nation prays that it will never be the case, this could be the same fate as Bryant if he is unable to keep himself clean. Without Bryant on the field with the great talent that he has, Coates would receive those snaps to prove that he can be an even more dangerous threat for the Steelers offense, which would make Bryant more or less expendable. If they were willing to trade Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes to the Jets for a fifth round draft pick they will have no problem casting aside a potentially troublesome player.
Over the next three weeks the Steelers face off against some very talented defensive backs in the league. Players such as Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers, Janoris Jenkins of the St. Louis Rams, and Jimmy Smith of the Baltimore Ravens will all provide the Steelers wide receivers with a challenge. Coates would benefit most out of anyone on the depth chart when it comes to getting him the much-needed experience that is vital for him to progress as an athlete.
Coates displayed more than once in the Steelers’ five preseason games that he has the ability to blow the top off of defenses and beat his defender along the sidelines to get deep downfield. Even though he will be up against more skilled defenders than he faced in the preseason, he can prove that he can match up well against the NFL’s best and still be effective.
The Steelers may have a raw receiver on their hands in Sammie Coates, but they can mold him into a very dangerous weapon that will aid their offense for years to come. Building Coates into that dangerous receiver has to start much earlier than they would like, and it must begin in week two against the San Francisco 49ers.
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