Devil’s Advocate: Top Reserve Outside WR

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Who would be the Steelers’ third wide receiver on the outside, in the event of an injury?

I think we all know by now that the Steelers’ two starting wide receiver this season are going to be Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. They are easily the two most talented for those roles, and have also been the most productive in doing so.

But should something happen, who would the Steelers turn to to take up those snaps? The team had to use any number of bodies there last year while Bryant was suspended and injuries began to mount, so they would certainly like an answer. I’ll make the case for some of the more prominent candidates.

Sammie Coates

Coates already filled this role last season before he broke a couple of his fingers, and his confidence in the wake. A long time removed from that injury, and healed up from offseason groin surgery, he will be ready to rock in training camp. He’ll drop a few passes, but that just means he’s filling Bryant’s shoes, who is going to drop passes too.

JuJu Smith-Schuster

There is already a push to get Smith-Schuster into the slot, but the reality is that he spent most of his college career on the outside. He has the size and the ability to win off the line of scrimmage to play outside, so if they want to hustle him onto the field into the slot, they should be ready to play him outside too. And he has gotten work everywhere.

Justin Hunter

Hunter was basically signed in free agency as Bryant insurance, so if something happens to Bryant, he would seem like a pretty obvious, bargain version of the same thing. He actually has a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses, though not in as desirable an arrangement.

Darrius Heyward-Bey

We’re already starting to push it here because there will only be so many receivers on the roster, but Heyward-Bey has to be mentioned here. He ended up in the starting lineup at one point already last year, and they still value his long speed. If he is one the roster, and others fail to show up, it could fall on him again.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Andrew Norwood

    TBD, between Hunter and Coates. Coates really had some splash plays, going back to Divisional playoff game in Denver thru the first 5 weeks of last season. Hunter, on the other hand, has never played with a QB like he has now. One or both of these guys will be on the team. We have to have an MB insurance policy. Coates can be a valuable ST asset too. DHB needs to become a coach. Now.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    I’d like to see how Justin Hunter does in camp – he’s pretty tall.

    Good problem to have deciding between all these receivers.

  • falconsaftey43

    Ayers, if he makes the roster, would also be a potential candidate. He did serve as the backup X WR last year once he made the active roster. Important thing is, they have options.

  • falconsaftey43

    Am I the only one that’s kind of worried JuJu isn’t going to be an impactful NFL player? I see things I like in him, but also ones I don’t (mainly lack of separation and suddenness to his game).

  • D.j. Reynolds

    I always worry people won’t work out. My first reaction to JJSS was to scream about a horrible pick! But, once I realized he is a big slot and not necessarily an outside guy, I started to see it differently.

    It is true that he may lack super-top-end-speed to gain separation by speed only, but he has the other physical/mental traits you look for in a solid possession/blocking/#2 or #3 WR.

    I worry, but less so about him than others at this point.

  • NickSteelerFan

    Coates, Hunter and DHB all make sense as a backup for Martavis. I’m more nervous about who takes AB’s place if he were to be lost for any period of time.

  • D.j. Reynolds

    If you are expecting him to be H. Ward or A. Boldin, then I think you may be disappointed. However, if you set your expectations to the level of J. Cotchery’s career, then I think that is realistic.

    I really like his potential to be the 3rd receiving option in the red zone – I see more TD production early than a high volume of catches.

  • falconsaftey43

    I just can’t get excited over him yet. I’m not obsessed with speed or anything at WR (I loved Keenan Allen coming out, and he’s slow as heck, but he just knows how to create separation). Hopefully he’ll get me excited this preseason.

  • Andrew Norwood

    I am curious about him. Thought he did some good things when he got the chance last year. Haven’t seen enough to know, but I am wondering how much of a gap there is between he and Eli. There’s seems to be some similarities ability wise. Plus Ayers is a potential PR guy, freeing up AB. Eli has made a few tough grabs (especially on game winning drive vs Ravens), but there haven’t been a lot of splash plays from him.

  • falconsaftey43

    I actually think they are very different in reality (at least where they are in their careers). I think Rogers is much more of the technician, great route runner, works well within the offense. I see Ayers as more of a “feel of the game” kind of guy. Good ability to create, but not as technically sound. I like both a lot. Going to be hard for Ayers to make the roster though.

  • StolenUpVotes

    Well good thing he has the king of separation AB in his position group along with the best WR coach in the game 🙂

  • D.j. Reynolds

    I like his age/size/strength/versatility/reported character/intelligence. We’ll see if it translates to the NFL. I think I’m slightly higher on him than you are but I must admit that a large portion of that is my perception of bigger slot redzone/3rd down target and better blocker for run plays/wr screens.

  • falconsaftey43

    for sure, so glad Mann stuck around 1 more year.

  • Geoffrey Benedict

    I’m not worried, because I see things that will translate.

    1. While he doesn’t create separation with running or sudden change of direction, he uses his body well to create throwing space for the QB. He can learn to run routes better, shielding the play with your body is a great tool to start with.

    2. He finds gaps in zone defenses. This is where he compares to late Hines Ward, when Hines was running more short and inside routes. Hines wasn’t beating anyone with speed at that point, and everyone knew Ben was looking for him, but he’d still be open, because he knew how to find holes in zone defense, and change his speed to maximize those openings. JuJu Smith did that really well in college, it will translate.

    3. He fights for the ball, comes back for it, stays in plays late when his route finishes, wins jump balls, and will take the ball from a defender. Ben likes to throw balls where the receiver needs to make a play, and JuJu does great on those balls.

    4. Catch radius. Ju Ju doesn’t need the ball in a specific spot, he’s going to catch somewhat off target balls, and when he gets 2 hands on the ball, he doesn’t let it get swatted away.

    5. YAC. Ju Ju can take a pass anywhere and turn it into a big play. He’s hard to bring down and has good vision and takes good angles.

    6. The big one. Opportunity. With Brown and Bryant, his early years (he’s 20 until November) while he hones his craft he won’t need to beat good corners very often. That’s big, because his route running, his understanding of changing speeds and accelerating out of cuts and creating space by accelerating when the CB looks to the QB, he isn’t great at that stuff, and that is the place where AB is the best in the league, that’s why without elite speed or size, AB is still the best receiver. JuJu will learn, and while he does he’s got guys creating opportunity for him.

    His blocking and strength against zone will get him on the field, his fight for the ball and YAC will endear him to Ben, and the guys on the outside will create space for him to work.

    He’s going to do well in the short term. Long term is purely based on how well he can learn his craft, in a room and on a team that has excelled at WRs doing just that.

  • Big White

    No question its DHB. He’s proven that the hands have gotten better or the focus, either way. Throw in his ability to mix it up physically and to me it’s really not even that close. Hamilton would be my 2nd pick.

  • falconsaftey43

    Nice points Geoffery. Hope you are right.

  • falconsaftey43

    I don’t think they drafted JuJu because they were comfortable with DHB and Hamilton as the next man up at WR.

  • Geoffrey Benedict

    Backup outside is Coates to take, if he fails I expect DHB to have it early, and give way to JuJu Smith.

    With Eli and JuJu, I think we have two really good slot receivers, and while JuJu fits the offense we wnt to run, he can be moved to the outside Z and Eli can play slot.

    I think by mid season, we are going to be trying to get both of them on the field more, and unless Coates is in good form they are going to push everyone but AB and Bryant reserves out of the picture.

  • Andrew Norwood

    Agreed. I don’t think either of those 2 are on the 53.

  • Andrew Norwood

    He does seem to have better hands than several of our burners. Can win on the contested balls, something Coates and MB have struggled with. Eli may manthe slot, and give way to JuJu when we get closer to the goal line. I like the idea of the physical threat to go along with the other weapons we have there.

  • Geoffrey Benedict

    I don’t think he’ll be Hines, but Hines took a few years to be Hines Ward, and really blossomed at 25.

    JuJu will be 25 when his 6th season in the NFL is starting. He has the physical tools and style of Hines, and if he can learn to run routes and keep getting better across the board, that is his ceiling.

    Like I said, I doubt he gets there, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he made it.

  • Big White

    Yeah all those big plays the two combined for were horrifying.

  • Big White

    JuJu is obviously a good player, just a bad pick by us.

  • Big White

    Sooooo …… to recap. We spent a 4th on Martavis, then a 4th on Coates(See Martavis), X amount of Ledarius Green(vertical threat see Martavis) and finally a 2nd round pick on JuJu(See Martavis).

    … all the while DHB and Hamilton keep making plays. smh

    At what point to we stop drafting people as insurance for Martavis and worry about the other 52 roster spots?

  • Andrew Norwood

    DHB and Hamilton keep making plays? Very few and far between….

  • Big White

    Splitting time with a half dozen other guys…..

    24 comb touches
    408 yards
    5 touchdown
    17 yards per touch
    TD every 4.8 touches

    Darn those numbers

  • StolenUpVotes

    What in the heck were you watching? They combined for a whopping 408 scrimmage yards and 5 TDs in a season where touches were ripe for the picking with the #2, #3, and #4 WRs along with the #1 TE entering camp all suffering from injuries, suspensions, or confidence issues. They made a few plays when called upon and that’s admirable, but these guys are not guys you want to be relying on enter the season. Their lack of touches aren’t a product of Ben just not looking their way. Barring health both are going to have to scrap for their spot on the 53. Especially Hamilton.

  • falconsaftey43

    DHB has averaged less than 1 catch per game with the Steelers. Cobi Hamilton 1.5 catches. Hamilton made some clutch 3rd down catches, but he was a non-factor most of the time.

  • Big White

    This just in….Steelers looking to sign a few more WR’s before camp.

  • Andrew Norwood

    I’m not sure if you’re trying to make my argument for me or not with those eye popping numbers. DHB had 6 receptions and Cobi had 17. Ben was telling Cobi he had to come up with more than 1 per game. And then, he drops a TD in AFC Championship game. Those guys are hopefully done here. Good guys, but they don’t belong in this group on this team.

  • Andrew Norwood

    Obviously you are joking. But what do the Hunter signing and JuJu taken in the 2nd say about their feelings on DHB and Hamilton? It says they’re not good enough

  • falconsaftey43

    Hamilton and DHB played a combined 617 snaps last season. Their combined stat line was 23 receptions, 348 yards, 4 TDs.
    2015 Bryant played 511 snaps for 50 rec, 765 yards, 6 TDs. but yeah, they’re the same. In more snaps they had less than half the receptions and yards as Bryant put up. They’re not even close to a replacement for Bryant.

  • Andrew Norwood

    And that was Bryant playing in 12 games, serving the first 4 on suspension, right? He would’ve gone over 60 receptions and 900 yards easily over 16

  • falconsaftey43

    11 games (missed 5th w/ injury). Bryant was averaging about 66% of the offensive snaps in the games 11 he played. Hamilton averaged 51% of the offensive snaps in his 11 games.

    Big White is a little out there on this one IMO.

  • Rocksolid20

    Well said

  • falconsaftey43

    1st of all, Green was signed to replace Heath Miller (you know the TE that retired the same off season they signed Green, the TE).

    2nd, Coates was the starter last year because Bryant got suspended (certainly seems like it was a prudent move to bring in a backup plan, being as they had to use it).

    3rd, I agree that the selection of JuJu didn’t address a big need with the WRs they had.

    4th, DHB and Hamilton had pedestrian production at best, and are certainly not good enough as long term starters (as in more than a game or 2).

    So I’ll give you 1/4 on your points there.

  • falconsaftey43

    Combined Stats for all Steelers WRs.
    2015: 253 receptions, 3689 yards.
    2016: 208 receptions, 2765 yards.

    Obviously the guys they had on the field in 2016 were of the same quality…


    I will tend to agree to that…except for 4 finite points those others you mentioned didn’t have – the killer B’s (Big Ben, Brown, Bryant, and Bell)…..he literally has 3 of the top pass catchers at their positions taking all of the main defensive playmakers away from him and a pinpoint passer feeding him the ball in what could be, more often than not, wide open space to run in.

    I am upping the ante here, but I feel like the wise old sage, Mr Rooney, had this pick up his sleeve with his old friend Lynn and his greatest WR’s coach ever staying on for one more year with a 2nd Rd gift (not to mention Ben was reported to have been wanting more height in the middle (just not the TE everyone thought – though Odom would fill that order next season maybe)).

    I am extremely excited to watch a virtual Madden’s All Star team play with a lineup of AB, Randy Moss, and Hines Ward, as I think that is what BB has to work with this year for #7, and next year for #8.

    Steelers going to the Super Bowl!