It seems as though about half the time these days the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing with at least one of their top three wide receivers down. Sunday night will be yet another game of that variety, with rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster serving a one-game suspension for reasons I don’t even want to get into.
The point is, however, that throughout the season so far whenever there has been a vacuum in the number three receiver position, nobody has managed to step up and do much of anything about it. Third-year wide receiver Eli Rogers has been given the most opportunities and gotten very little out of it.
Sure, he has made a couple of plays here and there, but it has been about as many as he has failed to make, on the flip side. Meanwhile, we are still waiting with bated breath for Justin Hunter to justify his roster spot. He had that one third-down conversion and that’s about it. He was given a golden opportunity a couple of games ago and literally dropped it.
In that aforementioned game, which Smith-Schuster sat out due to a hamstring injury, the Steelers did get Darrius Heyward-Bey some work on offense, more than he typically gets, but it ended up being pretty much all on running plays.
Given the lack of productivity, relative to opportunity, that we have seen from Rogers and Hunter, I see no compelling reason why Heyward-Bey should not be given more opportunities in Sunday’s game to run with the top two wide receivers.
After all, he knows the offense better than either Rogers or Hunter does and is more capable of lining up in every position. His ability as a blocker, and his speed as a decoy, only further reinforce, for me, the logic of giving the veteran wide receiver an opportunity to be a contributor—an opportunity that he has acknowledged that he very much wants to have.
There will be Antonio Brown, and there will be Martavis Bryant, of course, and they should take up the bulk of the targets, with a mixture of passes going in Le’Veon Bell’s direction as well. But there will still be that handful of opportunities for a third wide receiver to make an impact on a game.
Heyward-Bey has only been given one target in the passing game so far this season, on a deep pass, which admittedly possibly should have ended up in a touchdown. He’s been the good soldier for a long time now and can’t possibly drop more passes than the rest of the group has been lately—including Brown.
The man works his behind off and has consistently put the team first. He should be considered a captain in the locker room for all the things he does that we rarely get to see. You may have noticed, or read about, him keeping Smith-Schuster off the field at the end of the game on Sunday. He has some capability as a receiver for a role nobody else has claimed, so why not him?