The Optimist’s Take – Drafting The Tall Wide Receiver

For a team facing so much adversity in the past season and heading into the next with a litany of questions to address, it’s natural to consider the issues and how they can either go right or wrong, as well as how they will affect  the broader dynamics and future success of the team, both heading into this season and into the future.

Though not statistically true, it is technically true that every team enters the offseason with the potential to finish the year as the league champion or as the first team on the clock in the next draft.

Some teams have a wider realistic range than others, and I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams. Think of them as Schrödinger’s franchise; in February, they are both future champions and future owners of the top draft pick.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.

Question: Should the Steelers draft a tall receiver, and what impact could he have on the offense?

This offseason, one of the main narratives regarding the Steelers across the league when it comes to the draft has been whether Pittsburgh would, or should, draft a tall wide receiver for Ben Roethlisberger, which is something he has been lobbying for basically since Plaxico Burress left in free agency after the quarterback’s rookie season.

The speculation was obviously intensified when Gerry Dulac reported for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the organization had given word to Roethlisberger that they intended to draft him that tall receiver in the early rounds in the draft.

After all, if you had a franchise quarterback who could be argued as being in the prime of his career, wouldn’t you want to appease a wish or two for him, especially after jettisoning some of his best friends in Bruce Arians, Max Starks, and Willie Colon?

Because of this, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin in particular have become household names in and around Pittsburgh and where all Steelers fans reside, as those are far and away the two tall receivers at the top of the draft.

There are others, of course, that could come later, such as Donte Moncrief, Allen Robinson, and Jordan Matthews, but the discussion has understandably been focused around Evans and Benjamin, the two players seemingly most likely to be able to help the offense most immediately and most significantly.

Meanwhile, the defense is on the decline and could use an injection of talented youth—yet the offense seems to be on the precipice of becoming one that can carry a team. Like the Steelers of the late 70s, could this generation be shifting to a more offensive-oriented club that wins by scoring points?

That is the experiment the Steelers will be conducting should they end up taking an impact tall receiver in the first round and forsaking their defensive needs. Given the likely departure of Emmanuel Sanders, in fact, it’s at least feasible that Evans or Benjamin could find themselves in the starting lineup, ahead of the veteran slot receiver Jerricho Cotchery and the second-year Markus Wheaton.

Having a tall wide receiver provides opportunities that teams simply cannot get any other way. If a defense can’t counter with an unusually tall cornerback, then any tall receiver with any leaping ability has a decided advantage—think Randy Moss as a rookie—that is a quarterback’s best friend. Just look at how Andy Dalton or Matthew Stafford flourish when throwing to A.J. Green or Calvin Johnson.

Tall receivers shouldn’t be equated with tight ends simply because they’re of similar height, because defenses do not play them the same way, and thus they offer different matchups. Tight ends are often matched up against taller safeties and linebackers rather than cornerbacks. You can’t do that, at least on a regular basis, with an outside receiver.

A quarterback who knows what he’s doing, like Philip Rivers, could make a Danario Alexander simply by playing to these advantages (over, say, Josh Victorian). Roethlisberger has been looking around the league and seeing this happen on a yearly basis. No wonder he’s been asking for a tall receiver of his own, or at least a tall receiver with some talent beyond what a Derek Moye can offer.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Steelers12328882

    As it stands now Evans could be gone before the 15th pick. That leaves Benjamin, but I wish he was as athletic as Evans seemed at the combine, because it would seem like a reach to grab him at 15. It’s a huge need for us tho, and depending on what happens with Ike it’s probably more of a need than CB. If the Steelers are confident they can grab a CB in the 2nd round then I say pull the trigger on one of these two in the 1st.

  • pat

    The only wr I think we should take at 15 is Evans but dont think he falls I like Matthews in the 2nd but dont know if he will be there im not sold on Benjamin as a top 15

  • ScottBB

    I agree with the 2 below posts. I want Evans or I’d wait til the later rounds. Benjamin seems to be a reach @15. The problem with picking a WR high is he’ll be Mike Wallace 2.0 and walk after 3 years.

  • ScottBB

    I like the idea of improving the speed on defense. Had to be the slowest secondary in football last year. I also like the idea of getting long-term value at 15.

  • Chad H

    I will say it again and see how many down votes I get. Trade back in the first and get more picks. The depth is good in many positions this year and we can add depth to many positions for next year.

  • 804Stiller

    I would rather get one of the top CBs, a safety or ILB if the value is there at 15. I’d love to appease Ben with a big receiver but I just don’t see where these big receivers equate to wins. I look at the last 10 or so SB winners and don’t see a lot of big receivers as difference makers. Maybe, I’m wrong. Plus, I think we have done well at developing receivers in later rounds.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I could see the Steelers sitting and waiting. Evans falling to them at 15 wouldn’t be shocking. It could still happen. But if he doesn’t last (say he gets chosen at 10-12), maybe the Steelers trade back to 23 or so for a third-rounder. At 23-25, I think Benjamin makes a great and opportunistic first-round selection. Then the rest of the draft is wide open for CB, S, LB, and DE/DT.

  • David OBIE!

    Strength: if you trade back 6 places or more you should get a third and a fourth.

    Benjamin,Mathews or Robinson should still be there.
    I believe we need extra picks this year and there are any good athletes still in the third round

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Fair enough. I’m simply thinking conservatively. Maybe a third and a fifth? But I also really like Brandon Coleman from Rutgers if the Steelers don’t go WR right off the bat.

  • Milliken Steeler

    Watkins is actually the only WR I would take at 15 and that isnt happening. This draft is deep at WR, We can get our defensive players and still snatch a guy like Jeff Janis in the fourth. His stock is going up after running that 4.4 though or he could have been had maybe in the fifth round.

  • dkoy85

    It would be an added piece to the puzzle. A tall receiver alone certainly won’t make an offense a championship caliber offense, but teamed up with an explosive Brown, Mr Reliable Cotchery, speedster Wheaton, Miller, franchise QB Big Ben, bruiser and pass catching Bell, and an offensive line coming together and with the new HOF caliber offensive line coach Munchak, then yes, I think adding a big bodied receiver could push the offense into something very special. And I bet the front office sees it the same way- that final dimension to an already very well rounded offense.

  • shawn

    Evans is not worth a top 15 pick … we want a RZ and inside threat which isn’t Evans strong suits … but Benjamin does that well and he can be drafted lower if they wanted to trade down

  • shawn

    heck trade back twice and get matthews lol … he’s a lot better than evans any how

  • Matt Manzo

    I really think we can’t lose this year! The depth at the positions of need enables us so many different options.

  • Steelers12328882

    Yeah I’m not an Evans fan, but I’m just trying to be optimistic about him incase we do draft him. I’d much rather have Benjamin if we went receiver, and I wouldn’t be surprised if 2 receivers were drafted before the 15th pick and Benjamin was next in line to have his name called.

  • TheBurgh805


  • David OBIE!

    Shawn; How about this scenario ; trade back 6 places our draft will look like this with comps.
    #22- #46 – #86 – #97 – #114 – #145 – #150 – #161 – #176 – #208 – # 225
    I also like Mathews with #22 . Kyle Fuller with #46 Terrence Brooks with #86