Eli Rogers Growth Must Come With The Ball In His Hands

Eli Rogers emerged onto the scene for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season as a former undrafted free agent who spent his rookie season on injured reserve after hurting his foot before even getting a look in a preseason game. He was immediately installed in the first game as the team’s slot receiver and proceeded to catches h48 passes for 594 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 12.4 yards per reception.

But that certainly doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. Specifically, I am looking to see improvement in terms of making the most of his opportunities with the ball in his hands: yards after the catch.

In our statistics, we have measured that Rogers actually averaged 4.29 yards after the catch per reception and a total of 206 yards after the catch. But one has to consider what that actually means relative to pass distance.

The average depth of target on passes thrown in Rogers’ direction last season was just 9.4 yards. If we’re talking about just his receptions, then that actually shrinks all the way down to about eight yards per reception from the line of scrimmage. 24 of his receptions came on targets that were within five yards of the line of scrimmage. If you catch a pass behind the line of scrimmage and gain five yards, that’s not particularly impressive.

108 of Rogers’ yards after the catch were produced on those 24 plays, plays that themselves only produced 159 net yards. That is an average of just 6.6 total yards per play, which indicates to me that he largely is not making the most of his opportunities.

Of course it should go without saying that by and large such short passes are often a function of an extension of the running game and are not necessarily designed to be broken into big plays. But even taking that into consideration, he has not always been able to capitalize on the times that he was found in the open field.

The most yards after the catch that he had during the year was 21 yards, which he did twice. One of them came from three yards behind the line of scrimmage, and was his biggest YAC play of the year. The other one came on a target 18 yards down the field for his biggest total-yard play of the year.

Of his 48 receptions, however, he had just five that reached double-digit YAC yards. The Steelers as a team had 73 such plays. Le’Veon Bell had 29 of them. Sammie Coates had five despite far fewer opportunities.

Rogers has quite a bit of potential to be a very good slot receiver. His route-running is more mature than he is, and he has the quickness to gain separation when it matters. In order for him to be a championship-level piece, however, he needs to be more deadly with the ball in his hands.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • falconsaftey43

    Thanks for the article Matthew, interesting stuff. I would be interested to see how he compares to AB, as they’re more similar players than comparing Rogers to Coates or Bell. Just on the surface, Rogers appears to have a higher YAC/rec (by about 0.7 yards) than AB according to stats I’ve seen. Obviously not all opportunities are the same, but I think AB’s are more comparable than Coates (where one bomb can skew it) or Bell whom the majority of his yards will be YAC because of the nature of the position,

  • John M.

    With Rogers and the emergence of Ayers last year the Steelers have 2 young talented receivers that could possibly be game changers.

  • Steelers12

    Ayers could be our new Randle-El

  • D.j. Hoy

    Despite his slight build, he doesn’t seem like a big YAC guy. Maybe that’s just a product of the routes he ran, because I definitely remember him having a few diving catches where it’s a given that he won’t be able to run after leaving his feet like he did. Rogers has some incredible hands though, that’s for sure.

  • Dorian James

    I would love that

  • Boots

    There were a few times last year I thought he missed opportunities to gain yards after the catch bc he was actually trying to run before he caught the ball. Hopefully a year under his belt settles him down a bit.

  • Andrew Swagner

    I hope Ayers pushes him off of the roster honestly. Seems to have more upside.

  • SteelChuck

    Thanks Matthew. I agree 100% on your take on Eli. I called into SNR last year to make similar points. Eli definitely had some balls that were not well placed for him to showcase his open field ability. But it looked like in many cases he was focused on securing the ball and settled for making the catch and going down. No complaints there as he made some very clutch catches on 3rd down. But I hope to see his confidence grow and some big plays this year

  • I wonder what prospect RB Tarik Cohen could do after the catch from the slot–or with screens and check downs out of the backfield when subbing for Bell. Ditto for slot/WO prospect Ryan Switzer whose explosive ability to separate Alex had reported [at Senior Bowl practices] was “off the charts” and made him basically uncoverable.

  • Joey

    My mind is too dirty; I read the headline as: Eli Rogers Growth Must Come With balls In His Hands….

  • Dan

    Yeah, the internet is ruining all of our minds

  • Dan

    With Coates, Ayers, Rogers and presumably Bryant coming back, we have so many young WRs with potential all ready on the roster, I really hope we do not draft another WR. With too many around it’s harder for any one to break through. I wanna see more reps with the existing guys to see what they can do.

  • Craig M

    How many were designed plays how many dump off safety releases and what were the stats on those?

  • Terrible Towlie

    Ayers looked a lot like a poor man’s AB

  • Sam Clonch

    The emergence of Ayers? Woh now, let’s be realistic. I wouldn’t consider anyone with career stats of 9 catches for 80 yards (including POs) to have “emerged”. If Bryant wasn’t suspended and Wheaton on IR, he probably never gets off the practice squad. He’s likely headed back there (along with Hamilton, who had a much bigger impact than Ayers) if MB and Sammie are back, regardless if they draft a WR.

    He may yet turn into something, but he’s not there yet.

  • John M.

    Good points! I’m probably biased as seeing Ayers play for UH down here and watching how hard he worked for the Cougars and the effort so far with the Steelers. Lot’s of good receivers just not enough balls to go around…

  • Jim Foles

    Hunter and bryant will be the game changers

  • Rocksolid20

    Can he throw ?

  • Rocksolid20

    If If If , they were and he did .

  • Voice O’ Reason

    Haha! I thought the same thing! I was like “WHOA, this isn’t that kind of blog, sicko!”

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I love what Book is: a good slot receiver with great hands, runs great routes, and if you don’t watch him he’ll turn a crosser into a nice gain! The speed is an issue tho and that’s one of the reasons I wanted Wheats in there because he’s speed made him that much more potent and Ben + receivers with speed = checkmate.

  • Steelers12

    I thought i read he played some qb in high school

  • Steelers12

    Wow i wouldn’t go that far

  • Matthew Marczi

    Agreed. The inspiration for this article was not the stats but rather the eye test. I recall too many opportunities that he failed to capitalize on when he had a chance to get in open space but couldn’t get there.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    He’s a reasonable facsimile of AB except for after the catch. AB is a threat to take it to the house on every play but Rogers is not nearly as elusive and goes down very easily.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Very slightly but I agree.

  • Sam Clonch

    What he did was be active for 4 games, catch 9 balls for 80 yards. You want to call Canton, or should I?

  • dany

    Seems like the steelers slot receiver position doesn’t produce a lot of YAC. Didn’t Wheaton have the same problem in 2015 and latter part of 14??

  • Boots

    Big believer in the eye test!

  • cencalsteeler

    I see your concern, Matt, but for basically a 1st year receiver, I’d say he fared well. In fact, he actually was a breath of fresh air. The guy has tons of potential and seems like a natural out there. If you look back to Cotch’s contributions, I don’t see Eli far from equalling or surpassing that soon. Does he have room to improve? He sure does, but I feel the future looks pretty bright for Eli. Consider me a fan. 🙂

  • RickM

    I go by bottom-line numbers. He had one of the best YPC averages for slot receivers in the league at 12.4, beating the like of Baldwin, Matthews and Fitzgerald. Frankly this whole thing seems like nitpicking to me. Sorry but it does. ‘Yards Before the Catch’ is also important but seems to be overlooked a lot. He has one of the best averages in the league really in his first year, so YAC clearly isn’t hurting him much.

  • Alan Tman

    I totally agree with that, and because of that I think AB and Ayers will be in the slot much more this season , because of their run after the catch abilities.

  • Cris de Campos

    My thoughts exactly. The slot position by nature is predisposed to low YAC because they’re often surrounded by S, LB, and a CB.