Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Wide Receivers

By Alex Kozora

A Pittsburgh Steelers player by player recap, grouped by position, reviewing the 2013 season. Today, a look at the Steelers’ wide receiver group.

Antonio Brown: It’s safe to say nobody is regretting the Santonio Holmes trade anymore. Brown, the team’s 2013 MVP, became a legitimate #1 wide receiver. He hauled in 110 catches for 1499 yards, both numbers good enough for second in the league, and caught eight touchdowns. He also tied for fourth in punt return average (12.8) with one score.

Brown may not be a 4.4 type of receiver but you’d be hard pressed to find a receiver that is more dangerous in space. As former wide receiver’s coach Scottie Montgomery would always say, he’s “quick to the tuck” almost immedaitely reaching top speed after the catch.

Todd Haley made good use of his skill set with a steady diet of bubble or smoke screens to him and rub routes (slant/flat and mesh) to give him a step on defensive backs.

He’s a fine route runner that gets out of his breaks quickly and has a reliable pair of hands.

By almost all accounts, Brown finds a good balance between being a humble, hard worker yet maintaining the chip on the shoulder he has had since being the undersized 6th round pick from a pass happy MAC school.

Although he’s a willing run blocker, that isn’t his strong suit. When the team employed Heavy sets with just one receiver, Jerricho Cotchery was typically the player sent out.

The Steelers hit a home run by signing to him what now is a dirt-cheap deal for a player of Brown’s caliber (6 years/43 million). Rejoice, Steeler Nation.

Emmanuel Sanders: Despite setting career highs across the board as the new #2 wide receiver, Sanders received a lot of unfair criticism from fans. It’s a season highlighted by a drop on the two point conversion attempt that would have tied the game against the Baltimore Ravens. A catch he had to make but he was given the label of not having good hands, something the numbers do not support.

According to this chart, Sanders’ drop percentage (2.7) was very comparable to Heath Miller and Jerricho Cotchery (both at 2.6) and better than Antonio Brown’s (4.2).

Sanders is only 5’11 but plays with a big catch radius, something noted in the very first week of the year on this grab.

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Finally healthy throughout the offseason, he would have had an even bigger start to the season (12 catches for 135 yards in the first two weeks) had Ben Roethlisberger not overthrown him twice. Once for what would have been a big gain against the Tennessee Titans and again versus the Chicago Bears that would have gone for six.

He’s not as dangerous in the open field as AB but Sanders is still a threat and racked up a lot of YAC.

He’s also the second best run blocking receiver on the team. He had his miscues (letting the safety beat him inside that resulted in a TFL against Cincinnati) but did a good job on his crackback blocks and blocking downfield. Some examples, the last being a downfield block that sprung Brown for a TD against the Detroit Lions.

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One gripe I did have was at times, a lack of football IQ. There were multiple instances of him moving instead of sitting down against zone coverage. It led to an interception against the Minnesota Vikings and an incompletion against Baltimore.

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They were plays that appear to be Ben Roethlisberger’s fault but were on Sanders for not being on the correct page with his quarterback.

He will hit the open market in the offseason and it seems unlikely the team will be able to afford to re-sign him.

Jerricho Cotchery: A player that, for seemingly no particular reason, fans wanted gone before the year began, ended up leading all Steelers in touchdowns with 10. By comparison, from 2009 to 2012, Cotchery scored seven times.

With as much 11 personnel as the team had to use this season and Markus Wheaton being slowed by injuries and missed time in the spring, Cotchery’s presence was valuable. Though hard to quantify, he helped lead still an extremely young group of receivers playing with a new position coach.

Statistically, over 78% (36 of 46) of his catches went for first downs. I don’t know how that number stacks up to the rest of the league but it is impressive and the best mark on the team.

The best run blocker the team has and as I noted, was often used as the lone receiver in Heavy sets.

He is set to be a free agent and will be 32 in June. The team has a difficult decision to make based on how they feel about Wheaton’s progress. If they are comfortable with him taking over as the slot receiver, Cotchery may become expendable.

But I’d hate to lose the comfort Jerricho Cotchery brings.

Markus Wheaton: Touted as a speedster from Oregon State, on the surface, it appears Wheaton had a quiet rookie season. But it was a matter of bad luck and circumstance and even then, there was progress.

The rookie missed OTAs due to NCAA graduating rules, preventing Wheaton from joining the team until he graduated school. He missed out on the most critical teaching time of the year. Once training camp begins, there is a lot less hand holding. A major setback that can’t be stated enough.

And of course, he dealt with broken fingers, missing four weeks mid-way through the year with a broken pinky and breaking another finger in Week 16. He was active Week 17 but saw reduced playing time because of the injury and as I noted in my last game notes, was clearly affected by it.

Despite the adversity, Wheaton made progress. He made the starting kick coverage team Week 1, got placed on the punt return coverage Week 10, and became the starting gunner opposite of Antwon Blake in Week 13.

He saw a season high 48 snaps against the Detroit Lions and another 28 in Week 16 against the Green Bay Packers. He saw four snaps almost every week from Week 10 on. That isn’t much but it shows the team had a plan to get him on offense each week. It’s enough for Wheaton to review and build off of during the offseason.

Who knows what kind of wide receiver he will turn out to be but his rookie year was not the disaster some thought it was.

Derek Moye: Steelers’ fans have clamored to see more of Moye. Standing at 6’5, he finished 2013 with two catches, catching a fade for a touchdown in Week 2 against Cincinnati. He also dropped a touchdown against Baltimore. The former Nittany Lion logged playing time in Week 17 and was targeted twice.

Some are enamored with his height but height alone does not make someone a successful wide receiver. I’d rather get the best players on the field in the red zone than a player with one possible route. There are plenty of creative route concepts that can be used to make up for a lack of height in the red area.

That isn’t to say Moye can’t be an asset, but it’s dangerous to fall in love with a receiver just because of his height. I remember the team bringing in guys like Micah Rucker and Matt Trannon, 6’7 and 6’6 respectively, to training camp. Walter Young and Fred Gibson were 6’4. None of them productive. Proceed with caution when evaluating the big guys.

Moye is signed for 495K in 2014 and will be back with the team to compete for the #4/5 WR job.

Plaxico Burress: Burress tore his right rotator cuff in training camp and spent the season on injured reserve. He’s set to become a free agent and though he says he wants to play again, the team is unlikely to re-sign a receiver that was already running on fumes. He’ll be 37 before the start of the regular season.

Justin Brown: Brown failed to make the 53 and spent the season on the team’s practice squad. A 6th round pick in last year’s draft, he will again compete for a roster spot. Brown is a big body at 6’3 209.

Kashif Moore: Moore also spent the season on the practice squad, signing a futures contract with the Steelers. He offers some return ability but will do no better than getting back on the practice squad in 2014.

Next Up: Tight Ends

Senior in college, blogging from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • steeltown

    Funny you mention A.Browns blocking ability, in an interview after the season was over THAT was the main thing he mentioned that he must work on this offseason.

    Love Cotchery, couldn’t believe some fans wanted to cut him last offseason even before his productive year he was still the best blocker on the Team and was a clutch 3rd down receiver, not to mention the savings from cutting him would’ve been minimal. Please re-sign!

    I fully expect J.Brown to give Moye a run for his money this year, especially if JB can start to contribute on special teams

  • Luke Shabro

    JB to me seems like Anquan Boldin without the ability to box out corners and safeties. He’s big, he seems to have big hands but he’s slow and probably not physical enough. Just my opinion though.

  • Luke Shabro

    Your comment on Derek Moye and tall receivers made me think of Dallas Baker “Touchdown Maker” from the 2007 draft

  • srdan

    After reading this, I think we would have to assume that a first round WR would have to be able to block. Or be really coachable. The redzone calls for a lot of 22 personnel, so the tall receiver would have to be able to block as well.

  • Robert Alaniz

    I look at the timing of Sanders drops. I saw, what I saw regardless of analytics being used to justify that people should be more happy with him.

    It didn’t factor in drops he made that were at the absolute worse possible time. He also stepped out of bounds on what would have been a touchdown on a return when there was no reason to be that close to the sideline.

    When you’re suppose to be the number two, have been in the system three years and a 31 year old #3 who doesn’t have the physical gifts out performs you in a contract year? I would rather let him ” take his talents to south beach”

    I agree with everything else and believe it won;t take Wheaton long to shine. This off season will be huge for him.

  • dgh57

    Cotch is a perfect example of a WR who you don’t know what you have until you play him more and we need his veteran presence and skill set. So please resign him!

    Sanders sometimes doesn’t have his head in games as twice I remember him twice throwing a temper tantrum instead of making a play on the ball. Along with a costly drop in the 2nd Ravens game. So please don’t resign him!

  • steeltown

    He’s supposedly a decent blocker, Coach Mann mentioned after the draft that he has some toughness and has shown to be able to block downfield. I truly think if he shows any improvement on special teams he could end up being the #4 or #5, Moye saw very very limited snaps on special teams and we all know the depth guys have to contribute in that area

  • srdan

    Spot on.

    I was at the jets-steelers game this year. The Jets fans were saying how they wish they had Cotch instead of Holmes.

    Like steeltown said yesterday, The NFL is funny sometimes.

  • Mike Carroll

    Ben overthrew Sanders in the Tenn. game? I seem to remember Ben dropping in a great pass that Sanders simply did not catch.

  • steeltown

    Nothing against Kozora, but I think you are correct, Sanders actually dropped two passes in that game. I think Ben overthrew Cotchery.

  • Alex Kozora

    Went back and looked and there was a fake bubble screen, throw to Sanders early in the 1st that Ben did simply miss high on. Though it probably wouldn’t have gone for as big of a gain as I thought when combing through my notes. Likely would have been 12-15.

  • steeltown

    Nice

  • Mike Carroll

    The play I was recalling was a deeper throw, maybe 35-40 yards downfield. I think it occurred when the score was 2-0 Steelers.

  • Dan

    Although Brown had a stellar season, I think our passing game will be more productive with a stronger receiver opposite of him to draw coverage away. Whether that turns out to be Wheaton or one of the top guys in the draft, we have a great potential in our passing game. Some speedster on one side, Brown on the other and Cotch or Miller catching balls up the middle. And if the O-line stays healthy and plays well, our running game will almost certainly improve. We could be a great offense next year.

  • David Edward

    I was surprised they didn’t use Sanders more as a KR. I would have, since I thought he was better than Felix there. That being said, I like Sanders as a #3 WR/KR and as a backup to AB…not as a #2 starting opposite him. Like many have mentioned, opposite AB, I’d like to see a big-body guy that Ben can throw to even when he’s “covered”. Sanders was more the beneficiary of teams focusing on AB, particularly when down in the red-zone. While having him back wouldn’t hurt, paying him #2 money certainly would.

    Cotchery is the classic vet who knows the game, knows how to play it, and knows his role and just goes out and does it. Truthfully, those that thought he should be cut (prior to the season) really don’t know football all that much. I think the Steelers are wise enough to bring him back…unless someone offers him a big deal. If that’s the case, I say “good for you JCo” you’ve earned it.

    I think Moye has some potential to be a nice #5, but he needs to get stronger. Since he’s not a burner, I’d like to see him add 10+lbs. of muscle and become a tough guy down in the redzone.

  • still desi

    The play you are recalling is the very first play of the season (after the safety and ensuing kick return). The Steelers ran a play action pass, which worked beautifully, isolating Sanders in man coverage which he beat. Ben dropped a perfect pass in there, which Sanders promptly dropped. It’s funny, but that one play could have had lasting impact on the season, certainly the start. I’d imagine a 9-0 lead after 1 play from scrimmage would have the crowd rocking and the defense in a frenzy. Oh what could have been…

  • Shawn S.

    Moye also had a spectacular catch where he was up-ended and landed on his head, never letting go of the ball. He showed some playmaking ability in the few opportunities he got. I liked him.

  • srdan

    Great freaking point. Especially since if I am not mistaken Pouncey got hurt later on in the drive.

    I know we cant sit here and MMQB everything, but like you said “oh waht could have been”.

    This would have been a really hot team going into the playoffs. not without fault, but sizzling.

  • http://pittsburghsportsinat.blogspot.com/ bgsteelfan

    Moye has the ability. His issue is handling NFL coverages and at times thinking too much about the catch.

  • http://pittsburghsportsinat.blogspot.com/ bgsteelfan

    The hands are only a small part of my issue with Sanders. Much bigger is the head. I don’t think he has the mentality for our offense, and he is iffy in clutch situations. With the WR crop in this year’s draft, I don’t see any reason to pursue him for anything but chump change.

  • http://pittsburghsportsinat.blogspot.com/ bgsteelfan

    Look at this draft class. This is a WR heavy year, no reason to take a WR in the first. There are plenty of guys that will be there mid-round.

  • http://pittsburghsportsinat.blogspot.com/ bgsteelfan

    I don’t see the comparison myself. Boldin was way ahead of Brown coming out of college.

  • srdan

    I agree. There is no reason to take a WR early, to an extent its a luxury. We have had success in the later rounds and as you point out, there are plenty out there.

  • Brendon Glad

    They need to make sure they get sanders or cotchery back. Preferably cotchery because he probably will cost less due to his age and injury history. But as of now he’s definitely the better player. But as long as we keep one, ill be fine with it.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Sanders was probably pulling a M Wallace and counting his money during the games. Some of those drops and the way he never really was good at running through the catch were real head scratchers

  • Luke Shabro

    You’re right honestly. Boldin was far more polished. I guess I was just thinking big body receiver and slow. That’s probably a really bad comparison