The Steelers are heading to training camp soon and with Martavis Bryant out you have to wonder who is going to be the number 2 receiving threat?
It’s really a jump ball at the moment when it comes to who will be the second receiver for the Steelers. The Steelers have possibly the most dangerous offense in the league. Yet, they’re still in the odd position of not knowing who will be the guy to whom Roethlisberger looks after Antonio Brown.
Martavis Bryant was obviously going to be this mythical figure we’re speaking of before he was suspended. Maybe in 2017, but it’s a little early to be speculating about that. Regardless, you move your feet, you lose your seat. That’s the rule.
And notice, I’m not strictly talking about wide receiver either. The Steelers have a big receiving threat at running back. They also have a new weapon at tight end in Ladarius Green who has been ready for a break out season. It’s anybody’s guess who’s in the chair when the music stops.
But here are the candidates.
The Favorite: WR Markus Wheaton
He’s the obvious front runner, and for good reason. Wheaton was 4th in receptions in 2014 and 3rd in 2015. His trajectory is clear. With Bryant out of the way Wheaton is the obvious, if not only, choice to play WR2 next to Brown. He also looks to finish there.
Why he will: He’s good. It’s simple. He has no obvious weaknesses. Good hands, speed, and route running. Wheaton is familiar with the offense and the quarterback. He’s versatile and can play outside and slot. He should also be motivated as it’s a contract year.
Why he won’t: He’s inconsistent. Wheaton seems to disappear for games. This is why, despite a head start each year, Bryant has essentially taken his spot by the last game. If Wheaton is gone for a few games, not literally but statistically, then Ben could look his way less, or worse, Tomlin could.
Where will he rank: 2nd – The Steelers don’t have another Bryant. Wheaton’s spot is probably safe. The most talented competition is Green and Bell, and even despite how good they are, Wheaton has a positional advantage at WR.
The Kid: WR Sammie Coates
He’s the young guy, and as the young guy there’s plenty of variability. He was not a factor last year after being chosen in the third round but he did show up as a deep threat in the playoff game against Denver, catching 2 for 61 yards. Apparently he was chosen in part because the Steelers knew of Bryant’s potential issues as Tomlin told Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette.
Why he will: The Steelers are missing a deep threat. Mike Wallace, Bryant, even Nate Washington, the Steelers like to use a deep threat. Roethlisberger has as big an arm as anyone in the league. So take advantage, right? Coates has the speed, he’s also 6’1″ and strong. The Steelers have a deep threat hole and he’s a deep threat peg. Fits.
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Why he won’t: Coming out of college Coates was raw. He’s spent a year being coached up but he still has little game experience. Coates was in need of a lot of work in terms of route running. He also was inconsistent and he has issues with dropped balls. He has issues with timing and tracking the ball. There’s a lot to work with but a lot to work on. Might need to be eased in.
Where will he rank: 5th – Normally for a number 3 receiver to come in 5th would say something bad, it just says something good about the rest of the team. It’s difficult to find a starting spot in your 2nd year on an offense that is stacked. He can still be important. But he’s either 5th or 2nd, there’s a clear path to 2 depending on circumstances. Still, 5th is more likely.
The Wild Card: TE Ladarius Green
Here he is, the new guy. There are variables with all players, as many with Green as anyone. He’s not just new to the team but he’s been stuck behind Antonio Gates for a couple years so his ceiling is unknown. Green is ready to explode and become one of the leagues elites tight ends.
Why he will: Green has all the tools you would want in a receiving tight end. He’s tall at 6’6″ and he ran a 4.4 40 yard dash. He’s got good hands and runs good routes. Roethlisberger is constantly asking for a tall target and he’s got his wish. He’ll get a plenty of looks in the endzone and he’ll give safeties nightmares. Green can be a star in steel city.
Why he won’t: He’s still new. He’s new to the Steelers. That means a new offense, new playbook. Also, due to a mix of youth, injury, and Antonio Gates this will be his first full time starting role. So despite the fact that the sky’s the limit, it doesn’t mean he’ll start there.
Where will he rank: 3rd – So close. The number 3 spot has just as heavy competition as the number 2. There’s a good chance Green has a big year, bigger than Coates. He’ll get higher receiving numbers than Bell. In 2014 Bell had 854 yards. And even despite that, Green will get more yards. He’ll also be a huge red zone target the Steelers have needed.
The Freak: RB Le’Veon Bell
The reason Le’Veon Bell is the freak is because most running backs would have no business being on this list. If a running back might be your second best receiver that usually means your passing game sucks. But the Steelers have possibly the best passing offense. That’s how good he is. He’s the best receiving back in the league.
Why he will: Because he’s Le’Veon Bell. How quickly we forget. This guy pulled in 86 passes as a running back in 2014 where he was the 2nd leading receiver. He has great hands and makes catches most running backs cannot. He can even line up at wide receiver. Oh, and then there’s what he can do after the catch.
Why he won’t: Well first, injuries. He has to stay healthy. The only other thing is his position. It’s true that didn’t hold him back in 2014 but the Steelers are slightly different now. Green will certainly eat away at how often Ben dumps it off to him in a pinch because Green will also be available. He’s also not the only RB on the team anymore.
Where will he rank: 4th – Bell will likely come in after Wheaton and Green. He’ll be more important to the team because he’ll be shouldering 90% of the ground game. He’s gotten some relief there but more in the passing game. He’s going to catch a lot of balls, but a lot for a RB, which is less than a lot for a tight end or WR. Most of his catches will be behind the line of scrimmage too. But 3rd, even 2nd is possible.
The Dark Horse: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
Hey-Bey is the dark horse because it is very unlikely that he is the number 2 receiving threat for the Steelers in 2016. Frankly, if he does end up that, it’s probably more likely that it’s because something went bad with the Steelers than something went good with Hey-Bey. But it’s still possible.
Why he will: There’s a reason Hey-Bey was picked 7th overall by the Raiders. It’s because he has great physical tools. He ran a 4.3 even when he came out of college and has not been slowed much by age. He’s got height at 6’2″ and is plenty strong. He also bring experience to the table, in the NFL and with the Steelers, where he’s a coach favorite for his hustle.
Why he won’t: There’s also a reason a 7th overall pick was signed for the veteran minimum. Hey-Bey was raw coming out of college and at this point it’s probably not going to be fixed. He’s just a little sloppy sometimes. The most common and frustrating symptom of that it dropped balls. A deep threat isn’t much of a threat if they can’t pull the ball in consistently.
Where will he rank: 6th – Unlike Wheaton, Coates, and Green, it’s probably safe to assume that Hey-Bey reached his ceiling. This is what he will be until he retires. He’ll be capable, a hard worker, locker room asset, but not a number 2 WR. Consider him the Dennis Rodman of the WR group, he’s here to do the dirty work. He’s done well here, a better environment than any he’s been in. But players don’t break out this late.
So to recap, the most like scenario is that Wheaton is the 2nd receiving option followed by Green, Bell, Coates, and finally Heyward-Bey. There’s plenty that can happen and some of the possible scenarios that could change this have been touched on. But one thing we can takeaway for certain is that Pittsburgh has a lot to work with.
All stats via NFL.com