Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley recently said that the group of wide receivers the team currently has is “as deep a group” as he has been around in his career, adding that he believes there will be good football players at wide receiver in camp who do not make the roster.
It’s important to emphasize Haley’s choice of words, describing this group as deep, rather than supremely talented. This is not the most talented group of wide receivers he’s been around. Not when he once coached Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin together, in their primes.
But it may very well be the deepest, because the Steelers have an intriguing crop of underdogs in camp this year, all battling for fringe roster spots or an apprenticeship on the practice squad.
This of course comes just a few months after losing over 100 receptions and 16 touchdowns from last season when Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery both left to call new cities their homes in free agency.
But Antonio Brown, coming off an All-Pro season, is always a good place to start, and the addition of a savvy veteran such as Lance Moore does much to alleviate concerns.
The heart of Haley’s premise, however, lies beyond the higher profile figures. It’s the fact that a veteran such as Darrius Heyward-Bey must battle for a roster spot that makes it so.
It’s a second-year former sixth-round pick like Justin Brown receiving praise from his quarterback when given the opportunity to take some snaps with the first team that makes it so. It’s the fact that he appears to be rushing past the man who beat him out for a roster spot last season.
Everybody knows that former third-round pick Markus Wheaton is expected to take a significant step forward this season, as the Steelers are counting on him to turn in an on-par performance as a starting wide receiver this year, jumping from fourth on the depth chart to second.
They also understand the potential of rookie Martavis Bryant and the role that he could serve as a red zone and big play threat with his size and speed as a rookie while he digests the offense and figures out what he’s truly doing.
But the fact that we’re able to talk about players such as Danny Coale and C.J. Goodwin in a serious manner when it comes to making the roster or the practice squad really starts to get at the heart of the matter.
Derek Moye and Kashif Moore were good enough to stick around from last season to this summer as the best of the rest, and now they seem to be very much outside the bubble for even a practice squad spot.
Add in the fact that rookie Dri Archer is a dual threat at running back and wide receiver, and you begin to realize that Haley wasn’t simply paying lip service to his players.
The reality is that many of these wide receivers won’t make it. Some of them may call it a career after they miss the cut this fall. And while potential is nice, the group is still littered with question marks who have accomplished nothing as professionals.
But looking back through recent team history, I can’t recall a more intriguing group of wide receivers from top to bottom.
There may well be a handful of players from this group good enough to earn a roster spot in this league that will be left out in the cold. I’m not sure I would need two hands to count the number of receivers that would apply to for the Steelers over the past decade prior to this year.