Specialization The Key To A Successful Rookie Season For Martavis Bryant

Not long after the selection of wide receiver Martavis Bryant in the fourth round of last month’s draft, some in the media took certain words to heart during wide receivers coach Richard Mann’s press conference and extrapolated from that that the 6’4” receiver would likely be lining up across from Antonio Brown come opening day.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, after all, had just lost both Emmanuel Sanders—the starter—and Jerricho Cotchery—the reliable slot receiver—in free agency, and the next player in the running to start was Markus Wheaton, a second-year player who was limited in his rookie season and injured his hand twice during the year.

Even we debated and tossed around the possibility of Bryant starting this season, though in the end we knew that the smart money would all be on Wheaton.

While there is still much that he has to show, he has been the likely candidate practically since he was drafted as the Steelers braced for Sanders’ seemingly inevitable departure.

Early reports from OTAs suggest that Wheaton is looking strong in his new starting role, and theories of installing Bryant into the starting lineup are falling by the wayside.

That doesn’t mean, however, that he won’t have his impact during his rookie season, and NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt is among those who believe he will.

Bryant was among the “11 guys drafted on Day 3 who have a good chance to make their presence felt this season”, according to Brandt, writing:

Bryant is a developmental project, but he possesses unbelievable ability, averaging 22.2 yards per catch in three years at Clemson. He simply has too much size (6-4, 211 pounds) and speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine) to not pose a problem for opposing defenders. Bryant will do a good job catching the back-shoulder fade and winning 50-50 balls; he should be a big-time red-zone threat.

I suspect that Brandt may be quite right in his assessment of the expectations for the fourth-round receiver during his rookie season.

Bryant lacks the polish, route running knowledge, and discipline to be on the field for every play. He doesn’t have a complete grasp of the offense, nor the accrued experience that enables a veteran such as Lance Moore to adapt to it quickly.

But what he does have is sheer size, speed, and athletic ability in a combination that no other receiver on the roster has.

Let’s also not forget Mann’s comments following the draft. While he may not have been thrusting him into the starting lineup, he did make it clear that he and others felt a receiver with his size was lacking within the offense of late. Todd Haley reflected that same sentiment when he discussed the Bryant pick on the team’s website for their Countdown web series.

One person that I expect will be campaigning to get him on the field will be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who hasn’t made his wishes for a tall wide receiver much of a secret over the years. Given select, scripted assignments, Bryant can be very successful this season in the areas that Brandt laid out in his evaluation.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Paddy

    Steelers WR coaches need to coach him up. This guy can’t fail

  • shawn

    This is much more on par with what is likely to happen then what was discussed during the recent podcast !

  • steeltown

    It’s sort of crazy to see the progression and evolution of the WR room in just 2yrs time, we had basically no size besides the 6’1 Cotchery (and the seldom used 6’5 Moye) now, we have Bryant, DHB, J.Brown and Moye in that room.

  • RW

    It’ll be interesting to see which of them stay in that room after the pre season.

  • steeltown

    My guess would be Bryant and Heyward-Bey, with J.Brown to the practice squad for another year, unless DHB falls flat on his face

  • RW

    I have high hopes for J.Brown out of camp this year.

  • steeltown

    I do too, but the fact that he still has practice squad eligibility might hurt him, especially if it’s a close race

  • James Kling

    Similar size-speed combo to Justin Hunter, who went 18-354-4 as a rookie. I’d suspect that’s about what we can expect from Bryant. I’d be surprised if he sees the field before the bye, or very much at all in the first half of the season, but could get introduced as the season goes on.

  • PA2AK

    Well we agree that it him seeing the field in general this year isn’t a question of ‘if’ but of ‘when’. When will depend largely on who makes the final roster at the position and what kind of packages they want to throw in the mix. If it’s AB, Wheaton, Moore, J Brown, and Bryant…I’d be surprised if he didn’t get a few snaps very early on. Covering a 4-wide set with that list is a tough job and would be unique for the Steelers in that a rookie presents some real matchup issues in that #4 spot. I do agree that it doesn’t look likely that he will be putting up a lot of numbers in the snap count column.

  • PA2AK

    I was thinking the same thing at two other positions as well…RB and ILB. While we have yet to see how they will produce, that makes 3 positions that have changed dramatically from 1-2 years ago.

  • steeltown


  • Eric MacLaurin

    I’m going to guess they end up keeping all 3 and carrying one less player at another position.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I think that if it helps it will help him get a job with another team if the Steelers try to pass him through waivers.

  • steeltown

    A strong preseason and yes, he might get scooped up

  • steeltown

    Could be. I think we carry only 3TEs and 3RBs this year and obviously then carry one of each on the PS, a training camp injury (knock on wood) could change the whole situation as well

  • James Kling

    Right now, I think your list of WRs looks reasonable (Archer sticks as RB), and Bryant is used situationally, in limited reps. It’s going to take a while for him to get the mental stuff down, so his playbook will be the Reader’s Digest version: RZ, some four-wides, maybe some deep work similar to how we used Wallace on downfield shots on first down.

  • Miley Cyrus

    How insightful

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Remember that if Bryant takes the field, he will potentially be matched up against the opponents’ #3 CB. That’s a big difference from Antonio Brown’s task. Not many back up CB’s can cover a 6’4″, 4.4 forty WR deep down the field.

    Bryant doesn’t have to know the entire playbook to contribute. He just has to beat his man over the top. Which I believe he can do to a #3 CB.

  • Ike Evans

    Red zone packages….thats wat this kid does

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Interesting. You could send AB, MB and MW all deep at the same time. Who would they cover? Then how much space would Archer have out of the backfield?

  • Johnny Loose

    Brown, Wheaton, Moore, DHB, and Bryant. I thin, those 5 make the 53 with Justin Brown spending one more season on the PS. One slip-up from DHB and I believe Justin Brown is next man up. I hate to leave Moye out of this equation. I think his only shot of making the roster is if DHB fails miserably, which I don’t think will happen. DHB might not have the best hands but he’s a veteran who knows the game and has versatility, not to mention he can really bolster our special teams, has blazing speed and is a strong run blocker. I think the real competition is between Justin Brown and Derek Moye. One of those two will be the odd man out and obviously if it’s Moye he will be with Pittsburgh no more. Losing Cotch and Sanders worried me but after the free agent acquisitions and picking up Bryant in the draft, I think we’re better off looking forward.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    And on top of that, consider what happens when we pound the ball up the middle with Bell and Blount. Teams are going to want to stack the box. That is when play action really works well.

    1st down and 10. AB on one side. Bryant on the other. Heath in line to block the OLB. Johnson as FB to block the ILB. Pouncey pulling to take out the other ILB. You know opponents are going to be dropping that SS down.

    That is when Bryant is left one on one deep down the field. In that situation it doesn’t matter how well he knows the playbook. Here’s the play… “Run deep. And catch the ball.”

  • Riverstko

    That would be awesome to see Brown and Bryant as 1 and 2 WRs with Wheaton and Moore in the slot. Bryant is too tall to play slot he could do more damage on the outside catching deep balls and over the shoulder fade routes.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    I like the way you’re thinking. Also, here’s a little secret — it will be Wheaton out there instead, and guess what?– He’s even faster than Bryant. Can you say, “Touchdown!”