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.