By Matthew Marczi
With wide reciever Mike Wallace now out of town, veteran receiver Jerricho Cotchery is finally been given the chance to really earn his keep for the Pittsburgh Steelers as the everyday slot receiver, and early returns on investment are paying dividends.
Prior to this year, Cotchery has been buried on a depth chart that included Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders—in addition to Hines Ward in 2011. He had not gotten nearly the amount of looks the past two seasons that he is getting this year.
Thus, his two-year averages with the team included 16.5 receptions, 221 yards, 13.4 yards per reception, and one touchdown per year in his scarce appearances, which were often as a fourth or fifth option on a given play.
Through four games in 2013, however, Cotchery has already secured 15 receptions for 248 yards to go along with a 16.5 yards per catch average, and has already matched his touchdown total of two—which is currently tied for the team lead in touchdown scores with Brown and Le’Veon Bell. That is a season total pace of 60 receptions, nearly 1000 yards, and eight touchdowns.
His 2013 figures include a big 36-yard reception (matching his longest with the Steelers) on the first play of the team’s last drive, which ended with a sack and fumble on third and goal, down seven points at the time.
What’s more, while he has caught 15 of the 25 passes targeted to him, that total figure includes just one drop on the year thus far. Perhaps equally impressive, of his 248 receiving yards, 93 have come after the catch—yet he has not forced a single missed tackle.
That goes well with his scouting report, which suggests that while he may not be athletic, he is smart, and he knows how to get the necessary yardage for first downs time and time again, especially on third down. And although he is certainly not much with the ball in his hands—especially when you run him on a reverse—he is a great asset to those who are, because he remains an excellent blocker for the position.
Cotchery, in fact, ranks fifth among wide receivers, in Pro Football Focus’ grading, as a blocker. It is also worth noting that Sanders is just behind him in seventh, showing that he has learned much from Cotchery and Ward.
Of course, those are in large part the numbers of a losing team whipping the ball around the field at the ends of games in a desperate attempt to make a comeback. In fact, the Steelers’ most recent loss to the Minnesota Vikings was Cotchery’s first 100-yard game in his two-plus seasons with the team. That is certainly to be considered when looking at his numbers.
Is a slot receiver performing well in a quadruple-dose of losing performances much comfort to an ailing fan base? Of course not—but wait…can he play left tackle?