By Jeremy Hritz
The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver position, one that was thought to be a tremendous strength and one of the best in the league at the beginning of last season, is seriously in question heading into the 2013 offseason.
Malcontent Mike Wallace will walk, which essentially is a positive due to his self-acknowledged lack of focus and true production during the 2012 season. That will leave a diminutive trio of receivers in Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery left to drive the passing game.
While these receivers are shifty and can make plays in the open field, they are not big targets that can out-physical defensive backs for the ball or get behind a defense. Losing Wallace takes away the deep threat component of the offense that the Steelers will either have to address via the draft as early as the first round, or through free agency. While Ben Roethlisberger has made the offense go with less talent at the receiver position in the past, in a league where the top offenses score points in bunches, he will ultimately need a threat if this team is to improve its scoring next year.
It could be telling if the Steelers decide to not add a receiver in the early rounds of the draft or through free agency as it could signal a desire to return to an offense more focused on controlling the time of possession with the running game. Potentially, the Steelers could burn an early pick on a runner, or, add one in free agency. While the Steelers have not been active in recent years in bringing in big-name free agents, based on Kevin Colbert’s dissatisfaction with his 8-8 team, this could be a different year.
Considering the history of the Steelers, they more than likely will not pay big money to land a star receiver, such as Greg Jennings, and if anything, they would be more inclined to sign a free agent running back. While Steven Jackson will be 30 years old next season, he still has tread left on the tires, and he wants nothing more than to play for a winner. If Jackson doesn’t command an obscene price tag, and if the Steelers can manage to do so with the salary cap, Jackson would provide for a physical runner that would automatically boost the quality of the running game. If they do sign Jackson, which I acknowledge is very unlikely to happen, they would still draft a young back in the later rounds, but it could free them up to take a wide receiver with their first overall pick.
While I still believe that the Steelers will draft an outside linebacker, I do not believe that they will select one with their first overall pick. With the offense lacking any true weapons for Roethlisberger and due to their inability to score points, they have to bring in some firepower, and it could result in the Steelers selecting a wide receiver in the first round, and then selecting an outside backer in the second or third round.
The Steelers have lots of work to do on the offensive side of the football, and while the defense is in need of players who can get pressure on the quarterback, imagine how many more games this team could have won if the offense could have generated more than 21 points?
With that said, it is possible that major additions are coming to the wide receiver and running back position. Whether it will be through the draft or free agency will be something worth paying attention to as we march deeper into the offseason.