The Pittsburgh Steelers saw a lot from Justin Hunter during OTAs and Mini Camp, but that doesn’t mean they should turn their back on Eli Rogers.
Eli Rogers wasn’t a star in 2017. After one year filling in as a starter while Pittsburgh tried to solved their wide receiver troubles, Rogers found himself fighting for playing time as the fourth option on a team who suddenly found all the answers in the passing game.
With the additions of JuJu Smith-Schuster and a returning Martavis Bryant, Rogers wasn’t needed as anything more than a backup slot man. A position he found comfortable, but not one that allowed him to flourish as a pass catcher.
He caught 18 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown last season. Not much to show heading into the offseason as a free agent. Then, with an added ACL tear to the mix in the team’s playoff loss, Rogers entered the offseason with slim hopes of finding a new home in the NFL.
But all of that was okay. The wide receiver needed to show his recovery was going smooth and Pittsburgh should come knocking, handing him another contract. Maybe nothing extraordinary, but to play in the NFL, anything is better than nothing.
Hopes seemed even higher when Rogers was seen at UPMC Rooney Complex, last week. People believed he was working on contract negotiations, trying to get a deal done before training camp.
That may still be true, but as Mini Camp ended, people seemed to turn their attention to a different receiver fighting for the fourth spot.
That receiver is Justin Hunter. The speedy wideout who’s made his way around the league and is hoping to land more playing time in Pittsburgh before time slips away. For the second-straight year, he’s done nothing but impress during the offseason, but even if his improvement is earning him time, it shouldn’t turn the Steelers away from signing Rogers.
Let them both play. And to be frankly honest, it’s time to move on from Darrius Heyward-Bey. The 31-year-old is only getting older, and has become a non-factor in the receiving core. He’s a special teams ace, but he’s not adding anything to this team that Hunter or Rogers can’t do in the punt coverage.
Allow the younger guys to play special teams and fill in in the receiving core. It adds more value to the people on the 53-man roster, and removes players with one role. Having Rogers fill in behind Smith-Schuster and Hunter on the outside will add depth to the entire rotation instead of just one slot. This keeps everyone rested and adds two young players who are just as trust worthy as any backups in the league.
It’s not perfect, and it isn’t like we’re sitting in the front office discussing this situation. But Pittsburgh has gone young over the last five years. Their focus is keeping talent around as long as possible, and to expand that, they need to focus on depth.
They have a prime opportunity to start at wide receiver by keeping Rogers and Hunter around this season. A move they should highly consider.