Earlier in the offseason, we took a position-by-position look at where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand with their roster before the free agency process both ravaged and replenished the talent pool.
The Steelers entered the process with 22 free agents. They re-signed six of them, while losing eight more to other teams, with eight remaining unsigned. They also added seven free agents from other teams.
With the roster picture now much clearer and draft needs much easier to determine, it’s time to revisit those positional draft charts to see which positions are areas of need come draft time.
The next position we’ll revisit will be the wide receiver position. Along with defensive end, no position took a bigger hit in free agency for the Steelers than wide receiver, losing two of their top three players there.
Antonio Brown: Antonio Brown is currently the only token of consistency within the wide receiver group, but it’s a role he’s fit to fill, coming off a season in which he recorded at least five receptions for 50 yards in every single game.
Brown showed last year that he could legitimately be the team’s number one receiver, even with a weaker supporting cast, which was certainly a question entering the season. He and Ben Roethlisberger have a strong rapport. While he had eight touchdown receptions last season, he may need even more this season unless the tight end and running back positions can pick up some of the slack.
Markus Wheaton: Who is Markus Wheaton? The Steeler are in wait and see mode after the former third-round pick spent much of his rookie season either injured or buried on the depth chart. Now he stands to earn a starting job coming off a season with just six catches, all of which came in two games. He seems to be a great big ball of potential, but until that potential turns into production, concerns will be raised.
Lance Moore: The Steelers were very concerned with replenishing some of the wide receiver depth via free agency after the loss of both Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, the latter of which was a surprise. Lance Moore could prove to be a viable alternative, though he is coming off a season in which he battled injury and lost playing time. While he is short, he has been very reliable in the slot and can move the chains.
Derek Moye: Derek Moye figures to begin the offseason fourth on the depth chart. His height offers the Steelers something the players ahead of him desperately lack, as he has about a half a foot or more on all of them. He showed it on one red zone touchdown last season, but he will need to offer a demonstration of consistency this season.
Darrius Heyward-Bey: As a low-risk, high-reward signing, Darrius Heyward-Bey should be an interesting player to watch. He is physically gifted and can even block and play special teams, but when it comes to holding on to the football, which is job number one, he has struggled. He’ll need to have a reassuring camp and preseason to make the roster.
Justin Brown: A late-round draft pick last season, Justin Brown lost out to Moye to serve as the tall receiver of the group, instead spending his rookie year on the practice squad. His future is far from guaranteed right now.
Draft Prognosis: The Steelers have a number of futures contract-type receivers on the offseason roster, but certainly nobody that would influence their draft plans, and thus are not necessary to mention at this point in time.
Although they expect to grow from within, namely with Wheaton and Moye, and perhaps Brown, the narrative has certainly been that the Steelers are intent on drafting a wide receiver this year, which could come as early as the first round.
While the class is supposed to be historically deep at wide receiver, Mike Evans might be difficult to turn down if he’s available in the first round. High-quality depth will last well into the second and third rounds, however, but if the Steelers want to have some assurance of adding a player that is likely to help sooner rather than later, they probably won’t want to wait until day three to take a receiver.
Some day two candidates could include Kelvin Benjamin, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson, Donte Moncrief, and Davante Adams. No doubt one or more will slip into the first round, however.