It is April and perhaps time for the Steelers to draft yet another wide receiver in the upcoming NFL draft. A quick look at the 2011 pre draft visit list combined with the draft history of the Steelers almost yearly drafting of wide receivers under Kevin Colbert and it does not take a rocket scientist to add two and two together to get to this conclusion, although it took me a little while to accept it. Since Colbert took over as the Director of Football Operations in 2000, the Steelers have drafted 13 receivers and have drafted at least one in all but two drafts dating back to 2000. Just last April the Steelers drafted Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown and both contributed during the run to the Super Bowl last season and Sanders had even overtaken veteran Antwaan Randle El as the #3 receiver by seasons end. The Steelers chose to trade away Santonio Holmes last April, so it was no surprise that Sanders was drafted and according to Colbert, Brown fell in their lap when he was still on the board in the 6th round.
The Steelers are currently stocked well at wide receiver for 2011 as Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Sanders and Brown all will return. Past that is where the Steelers might be concerned. Ward is signed through 2013, but he likely will only play two more seasons at the most. Wallace came into his own with a Pro Bowl like 2010 season, but he enters the final season of his rookie contract this upcoming season. The Steelers almost certainly will try to get him extended, but stranger things have happened. Sanders had a great rookie campaign and recently underwent his second surgery on his left foot that he broke in the Super Bowl. While the surgeries appear to be minor in nature, you never like to hear about a young receiver having a foot injury. Brown also contributed in his rookie season, but looks to need a bit more polishing as far as in-game recognition and route running goes. His talent certainly can not be denied though.
Outside of those four guys is where the question marks are. El was brought back on a three year deal last offseason and at the moment looks to be safe in 2011, but that is not a lock. Arnaz Battle was also signed last offseason to a three year deal, but is mostly regarded as a special teams player and there is no guarantee he will make the 53 man roster next season. 2008, 2nd round draft pick Limas Sweed is still under contract for 2011, but was lost last offseason to an Achilles injury. Sweed also seems to struggle with the mental aspect of the game as we have seen in his inability to catch. He needs a huge rebound to remotely have a chance at making out of Latrobe. The Steelers also have Tyler Grisham and Wes Lyons signed to the offseason roster, but the chances of either making it out of training camp are very slim.
While I expect Wallace to be extended, you have to wonder if the Steelers brass are concerned about the Sanders foot injury at all and while Brown certainly did contribute in 2010, he certainly has plenty room for improvement. Ward still is productive as a possession type receiver and dancer, but his retirement is not to far off in the distant future. The vertical passing game is a key component to the Steelers success and much like the linebacker position on defense; they constantly are looking to re-load it. While I do not think they will draft a receiver in the first two rounds of the upcoming draft, it is becoming quite obvious that at least one will be drafted from round three on. Based on all the facts I have mentioned, I think I just got my rocket scientist badge. Much like the drafting of linebackers, drafting of receivers seems to be a yearly tradition for the Black and Gold. The real question is: Will they draft more than one this year? To answer that, I will need to work on my clairvoyant badge.