Steelers have the groundwork to have trio of 1000 yard wide receivers

JuJu Smith-Schuster James Washington Diontae Johnson Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
JuJu Smith-Schuster James Washington Diontae Johnson Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

One team with three 1000 yard wide receivers hasn’t been seen since 2008, but the Steelers on paper have a young group that could accomplish this feat.

When a wide receiver goes over 1000 yards in a season, it typically represents a season of excellence for that player. 1000 yards is that milestone that typically separates an okay season vs a great season. When two players on a team go over that milestone, it typically signifies an excellent season through the air. The Steelers need to set their sights bigger though, as having three 1000-yard players isn’t impossible given the roster makeup.

Now, having a trio of 1000 yard WRs isn’t a new feat; the first time it happened was in 1980 and it has been accomplished five total times. The most recent, and arguably most applicable, was the 2008 Arizona Cardinals had Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston all go over the century mark (they totaled 3475 yards between themselves). More to the point, this passing attack was led by not just a 37-year-old Kurt Warner, but a 37-year-old Warner that was coming off a poor 2007 season.

In a bounce-back year for the hall of Famer, he tossed just under 4600 yards (as opposed to the 3400 yards he threw the year before). The team as a whole threw closer to 4900 yards total, meaning the trio accounted for roughly 71% of the receiving yards. This will likely be the biggest obstacle for the Steelers to overcome, as the team typically spreads the ball around.

Ben Roethlisberger, like Warner, is in his late 30’s and is coming off a down year (to a more extreme extent granted). Ignoring last year and looking at the previous five years for an average, a realistic stat line for Roethlisberger would be around 374 completions for about 4420 yards. Pretty close to what Warner did in 2008.

The Steelers WRs are what gives them a shot

Looking now at the Steelers, the trio of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington has some serious potential. Each uniquely contributes to the group. Johnson is the threat all over the field with the agility to turn a short pass into a long gain. Washington is a deep threat, averaging 15.9 yards per catch over his career. Finally, Smith-Schuster is a slot nightmare.

What would it take for each player to go over 1000 yards then? Based on their career averages, the minimum number of passes caught would have to be 73 for Smith-Schuster, 87 for Johnson, and 63 for Washington. These numbers don’t seem out of reach either; none of them would have to necessarily post over 100 yards, and, assuming their averages hold up, would have to average 4-6 receptions a game. In all, the trio would be expected to grab around 223 passes.

This would leave Roethlisberger with 151 other completions to spread the ball around to other players. Those other receptions would likely break down to roughly 70-80 receptions for the TE position, 40-50 to the RBs (especially if Jaylen Samuels doesn’t make the roster, as he is the most skilled pass catcher at the position). That leaves 20-40 receptions to be spread around to the other WRs – all realistic numbers.

Is getting three WRs to 1000 yards an easy feat? Of course, it isn’t, and with Roethlisberger rehabbing an elbow injury, it is far from a guarantee. Given that each of the Steelers starters has a different unique skill set though, it should at least mean they won’t be competing with each other for playing time.

The biggest threat to this issue on the roster is Chase Claypool. If he develops quickly, he should be rotating in for snaps and lowering the chances of this milestone being accomplished. That said, given the state of the NFL offseason being so unique, expecting him to shoulder a starting load that early shouldn’t be expected.

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While duplicating the 2008 Cardinals feat would be impressive, don’t go into the season expecting it. That said, the Steelers share a lot of similarities with that group, so this could be a lofty goal to set. That Cardinals team ended up making the Super Bowl as well, perhaps a hint of where the Steelers should expect to be if this goal is accomplished.