The Steelers have a new face at the wide receiver position, but it wasn’t enough to elevate their ranking in Pro Football Focus’s eyes.
In 2019, James Washington remarkably led the Steelers in receiving yards. With JuJu Smtih-Schuster sidelined for four games, and playing banged up throughout the season, it was Washington and rookie Diontae Johnson who led the charge through the air for Pittsburgh last year.
With embarrassing quarterback play, the Steelers finished as just the 30th ranked offense in the league last season. With players like Ryan Switzer, Deon Cain, and Johnny Holton forced to step in on offense last season, things didn’t exactly go as planned. While Cain played well in very limited action (just 5 catches on 6 targets through 6 games), Switzer averaged just 3.4 yards per reception and Holton caught just 3 of 15 targets on the season.
2020 already has a very different outlook for the Steelers wide receiver corps. A healthy Smith-Schuster will be accompanied by breakout players Washington and Johnson. In addition, Pittsburgh added an elite physical specimen this year in Chase Claypool. The Notre Dame product still has a lot of work to do, but as the team’s fourth receiver, he should be an excellent option.
Pro Football Focus ranks Steelers receiving corps 18th
Despite all of this, Pro Football Focus does not favor the Steelers kindly in this department. Through Pittsburgh has spent three second-round picks and a third-round pick on the position since 2017, this Steelers unit is ranked as just the 18th-best receiving corps in the league.
Here’s what PFF’s Ben Linsey had to say:
"18. PITTSBURGH STEELERSPittsburgh has a very young group of receivers. In terms of experience at the wide receiver position, JuJu Smith-Schuster is the elder statesman, and he’s not even 24 years old yet. There is talent here for sure, though. Diontae Johnson was listed as one of Sam Monson’s breakout candidates for 2020, coming in as one of the better young route-runners in the NFL. James Washington started to put things together towards the end of the season, as well, earning a receiving grade of 73.4 from Week 9 through the end of the season (28th among wide receivers). There is a fairly wide range of outcomes for this group in 2020, but the ceiling is there with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger."
Linsey admits that there is potential for this group to outperform their initial rankings heading into 2020, and a lot of that depends on the health of Ben Roethlisberger this season.
Ben recently posted a video of himself slinging the football to JuJu, Switzer, and James Conner. The last time he was healthy for a full season, Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing yards. Though he isn’t as efficient down the field as he once was, having Ben at the helm will help everyone on offense.
We saw plenty of flashes last season with Johnson and Washington. Now, add Claypool and tight end, Eric Ebron, to the mix and there should be plenty of receivers getting open in 2020.
We can’t say for sure if Linsey is incorrect in his rankings, but we are obviously hoping for better results in 2020. With a young, deep receiving corps, Pittsburgh has a chance to climb much higher than this very soon.