Steelers Depth Receivers Lacking In Quality Looks

Through two preseason games, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-team offense has been able to perform well, both driving down the field and scoring. On the four drives led by Ben Roethlisberger, they scored three times, and passed up on a fourth and one opportunity near midfield on the last possession.

The backup quarterbacks have not been able to command the offense with nearly the same efficiency, though admittedly they haven’t had the same personnel at their disposal.

Landry Jones got a brief look with the first-team offensive line and quickly threw an interception. Bruce Gradkowski also threw an interception late in the game, but that was on a well-contested ball to Martavis Bryant.

Speaking of Bryant, we have yet to get much of a good look at him, or really any of the wide receivers behind the starting unit, and the fact of the matter is that the first wave of cuts is fast approaching the week after this.

The Steelers typically follow the tradition of using the third preseason game as a warm-up for the real thing, where the starters often play into the third quarter.

The coaches better get these young receivers some playing time with Roethlisberger in the next game or they will have a hard time even knowing what they have.

Bryant, Justin Brown, Derek Moye, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and those behind have been at a disadvantage with the quarterbacks and linemen they have been playing with.

Brown has been targeted five times through two games, for example. How many of them have been within five yards of the line of scrimmage? Moye had six targets, most of them shallow or uncatchable, in game one, and only one target in game two.

At least Bryant managed to get some quality looks, even if he only came down with one of the difficult balls.  He nearly had a touchdown in the end zone were it not for a defensive hold by one of the cornerbacks.

But as a whole, the receivers on the lower portion of the depth chart are still more or less unknown quantities in terms of being able to evaluate in game time situations, in large part because of the quarterback play.

The first-team offense should have plenty of playing time in the third preseason game, and in that time, they will need to work in some reps with the aforementioned receivers, to get them some quality reps, and some playing time with Roethlisberger.

Given all of the rave reviews of Brown during training camp and throughout the offseason, we really have seen very little out of him because he hasn’t been given the needed targets. If he is what many have said that he is, then it’s about time to show it. The same goes for the other receivers as well.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • michael young

    Quick Question: Is Landry Jones holding onto the ball forever because he cannot anticipate these guys getting open or because these guys just aren’t getting open. I understand being open in the NFL is very different than being open in college. The windows are certainly smaller. I do believe the key to evaluating the depth receivers will come down to getting them reps with Ben and the O-line. Or even Gradwowksi and the starting O-line. Then we may have a better understanding of what they are. L Jones hasn’t done these guys any favors.

  • CodeNameJerk

    It’s hard to blame the WR’s when they don’t have a decent QB throwing to them.

  • James Goins

    My understanding is that he’s been holding the ball too long, even in the non tackling drills where the offense has a distinct advantage. In an offense designed to get the ball out of the QB’s hand quickly, that seems like a fatal flaw.

  • Steelers12328882

    I know Landry takes a beating by Steelers fans, and most of the time it’s rightly so, but I have a much bigger problem with Gradkowski. I’ve never liked his game. I can’t believe we ever signed him in the first place. He had an OK rookie year, and one great game(against the Steelers) a few years later, but other than that I just don’t think he’s anything more than a #3 emergency QB. He has better pocket awareness than Landry, but that’s his game. He gets outside the pocket and uses his speed to scramble. He might go through his progressions better than Landry, but he’s been at it a bit longer. He overthrows and throws behind receivers just as much as Landry does. Steelers are in a tough situation with the backup QBs, once again, and it’s shown so far this preseason.

  • Steelers12328882

    Who knows. He’s looked pretty bad but he doesn’t stand out that much because just about every player on the 2nd and 3rd string offensive units has looked bad.

  • steeltown

    He makes better decisions and shows better awareness then L.Jones, need only look at that 1st down scramble the other night and while he’s missed a few throws (Spaeth near TD last week) he can atleast make most of the high percentage passes, unlike Jones.

    Im hoping Gradkowski gets all of the 2nd half snaps in this weeks game.

  • steeltown

    I’d say after the obvious top guys, Moye, DHB and Kashif Moore are the front runners right now when discussing the backend guys. It could very well be Moye who wins out, but will most likely be relegated to the PS this yr

  • Ethan Marines

    i dont know what kind of personal problems this kid has, but josh freeman is still a free agent and is not far removed from a 4000+yard season. he has to be better then gradkowski and jones!

  • Simon Cutts

    Jones is heading out of the NFL and he is going to take some talented receivers with him because he has ruined their pre season.

  • treeher

    Besides holding the ball too long, he has a slow release which makes it seem even longer. Partly why so many of this throws are behind the receiver.

  • Biggie

    Our top 5 are going to be A. Brown, Wheaton, Moore, J. Brown and Bryant. DHB is trying to make a late push and Moye is also in the mix but only way anything changes is if we keep 6 WRs. Really don’t see that the loss of targets is going to affect this, they pretty much know what they have from TC with this group. I will say it’s time to make a decision on L. Jones and looking at a FA or two as the experiment is pretty much over. Need to look next year at bringing in a serious contender to develop behind Ben out of the draft. The are a number a very good QBs coming out in next two seasons. Mariota, Winston, Brett Hundley, Connor Cook, Sean Manion, Bryce Petty, Devin Gardner, Cole Stoudt, Bo Wallace, Chris Hackenburgh. Kevin Hogan, Wes Lunt. We need to go with veteran backups this year.

  • Steelers@2010

    Amen to that; how can you evaluate the WR ‘s when you have sub-par QB ‘s like the backups for the Steelers. And the 2nd string talent on the O/L is a direct reflection on Tomlin, Colbert and the Scouting Department. And can we please stop making excuses for them! They have to do a better job, that team has absolutely no depth at QB, O/L or at the CB position. That’s unacceptable for an organization such as the Pittsburgh Steelers.

  • Steelers@2010

    DHB has already had his chances. Let’s see what Brown and Moye can do when #7 is in there.

  • Bill

    This is what has been the MO of Tomlin & his staff: never play the BUs with first team either in pre-season or regular season. Then when someone goes down, spout the “standard is the standard” cliché and insert someone who has had little chance to develop. Do we really need to wonder why that doesn’t work? Dear Mr. Tomlin: please play some of the young guys with the first team!

  • steeltown

    J.Brown already looks to have solidified the #5 spot at the very least, if not the #4 spot. It seems like the front runners on the backend are Moye and K.Moore, but again neither is playing special teams thus far in preseason so it’s still an unclear picture, which is why I mentioned DHB because he is actually playing on special teams (no PS eligibility will hurt his cause)

  • cencalsteeler

    Excellent post. I’m with you 100%. Big difference between Grad and Jones is Grad has running ability. His scramble and grabbing the first downs wins it for him. I’m not defending Jones, but if Bryant doesn’t get held on that play, he would have scored (that was a beautiful pass by Landry). That would’ve negated the Jones fumble on the next play and everyone would be talking about Jones leapfrogging Grad. Yes, Landry does have to work on getting rid of the ball quicker, but that is also something Haley has had to work with Ben on as well. Difference is Ben has the ability to extend, where Landry doesn’t. Landry is a “developmental” qb and that’s exactly what he is. For people to bash him are just impatient, imo. Would we all like him to go 10 for 10 with 3 tds and no ints? Sure, but that’s not realistic. One last thing. That pick on Landry needs to be credited to the Bills defender. That was just a great play by him and he needs the credit as opposed to Landry getting the blame. It was almost an exact reflection of the Shazier pick. We are all crediting Ryan with his read and break to the ball, and no one is saying Manuel made a bone head pass. Just sayin……

  • cencalsteeler

    Haley needs to do to Landry what he did with Ben. No more 5 step drops and scan the field. 3 step drops and get rid of the ball. Work on timing, quicker releases, and getting into rhythm. That will help with Jones’ weakness. Everything at this point should be timing patterns with him.

  • Matt Smith

    I was hoping after the HoJo fumble recovery that the Steelers would at least take a stab at a jump ball for Bryant.

  • ApexSteel

    After last year? I’ll pass.

  • SteveM2

    I’d say J. Brown is now the #4 receiver, behind Lance Moore, because he’s said to be able to play all three WR positions. Time will tell if if & how this actually works out in game situations. M. Bryant is the #5 receiver by default, as he’s done well in training camp. Again, we’ll see if Bryant can translate training camp performance when it really counts. The jury is out on both of them, in my opinion.

  • joed32

    My guess is that the wide receiver race is already decided and the top 5 are set in stone. Now they have to decide which one to put on the PS.

  • steeltown

    Agreed. Bryant is #5 by default. Question is do we keep 6WRs, I personally doubt it with Archer being able to serve that role. So, I would think the bottom depth chart guys are truly battling for one PS spot (in which case DHB is screwed, ha)

  • steeltown


  • The 2nd team receivers definitely haven’t had solid chances to show their skills in the first two preseason games. Back-up QB play IS a major contributing factor in this because no back-up offensive players can show what they have when L Jones throws picks, fumbles, or can’t sustain drives.[Buffalo had an 11 minute advantage in time of possession].

    At the end of the day, barring injury, Antonio Brown, Wheaton, More, and [probably] Justin Brown will determine the team’s success this year re throwing to WRs. Far more than who squeezes onto the roster as a 5th or 6th WR, I’m concerned that Wheaton and Moore can’t block a door with a doorstop.

  • walter mason

    We may keep Bryant because of his potential but from what I have seen in the 2 pre-season games so far is that he cannot get open, he cannot catch the jump balls, often the ball slips through his hands. However he seems capable of drawing penalties because defenders are afraid of his potential. Can he play special teams?

  • walter mason

    Im going out on a limb that I wouldnt be surprised if the Steelers keep DHB.

  • cencalsteeler

    We will keep Bryant. He is a WIP (work in progress), he’s not going anywhere.

  • Steelers12328882

    Oh no doubt. Gradkowski is the better QB, for now at least. My gripe is that they’re both terrible. Maybe it’s Landry’s fault and the Steelers figured he would be #2 by now and relegate Gradkowski to 3rd string, but that obviously hasn’t come to fruition just yet.

  • Steelers12328882

    That was a really nice pass by Landry. I’m holding out hope for him. He has the ability that’s for sure. Just needs to get his head straight.

  • cencalsteeler

    Do you think the offensive line and poor run play might have had a hand in TOP, too? The Bills ran for 150 yards while we ran for 35. It would be pretty hard for anyone to sustain drives with that type of run support, let alone establish some type of rhythm. Too many fans are quick to point the finger at an individual, when it’s clearly more of a collective issue.

  • steeltown

    Well remember Gradkowski was signed to a 3yr deal when Jones was drafted. They knew Jones was a developmental pick. They kept the underwhelming Dixon on roster for 3yrs, we’re not even through Jones’ 2nd preseason. I think he might be around this time next yr, but THAT will be his last if he doesn’t show improvement

  • Matt Manzo


  • GoSteelerz

    I think both the depth WRs and the depth DBs haven’t gotten enough work/looks. There may be some untapped potential that we miss because of that…

  • Milliken Steeler

    Put Grad with the number one line and let him get some reps without constantly running for his life with the second stringers and he will perform.

  • I’d say the 11 offensive players all contribute to how successful that offense is. At the same time, I’m also comfortable with the assessment of L. Jones’ by L. Jones himself. He says that he’s regressed. I believe him, and the tape bears him out. Practice squad maybe, but he wasn’t NFL-ready before he regressed, so he surely isn’t now. We have too many players who stand to be cut who can contribute to hold a spot for one who cannot.

  • John A Stewart

    Before that bum coach Shiano got there Josh Freeman had a great year.You cannot tell me he’s not better than Jones or Gradkowski. They the Steelers need too call Freeman.God for bid if Ben gets hurt we are done with these two bums.I remember two years ago we had Jerrod Johnson out Texas A&M this guy was good his preseason numbers with the third stringers were good waaaay better then Landry and Grad put together. They really need to contact Freeman before its to late.When Landry threw that int the look on his face said I cant do this please cut me.

  • steeltown

    I think so too, he’s serviceable and tough, that’s what you need in a backup