Apparently every Steelers wide receiver is involved in one competition or another this offseason.
As their leading receiver competes on “Dancing with the Stars,” the rest of them will battle to replace Martavis Bryant as the team’s No. 2 receiver.
“Everybody’s got a chance to compete for that job,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at the AFC coaches’ breakfast in Boca Raton, Florida, according to NFL.com.
Bryant was suspended for the entire 2016 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He caught eight touchdown passes in 10 games as a rookie in 2014 and followed that up with a 50-catch season in 2015, including six touchdowns. He had the league’s longest TD reception of the year in 2014 (94 yards) and the second-longest last season (88 yards).
The Steelers will be hard-pressed to replace that playmaking ability. They’ll need someone who can be productive enough to prevent Antonio Brown from seeing constant double-teams.
Markus Wheaton caught 53 passes in 2014 and 44 last season, but he’s caught more than six passes in a game only once. He caught nine passes in Seattle last season when Richard Sherman blanketed Brown and Ben Roethlisberger had to throw to Wheaton.
Darrius Heyward-Bey hasn’t fulfilled his promise as a seventh overall draft pick in 2009. While he’s on the same page with Roethlisberger, he seems to help the Steelers the most on special teams.
Inclination from many is correct — Steelers did indeed know about Bryant issue when signing Darrius Heyward-Bey to three-year deal Monday
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 12, 2016
Sammie Coates, drafted in the third round last season, caught just one pass in the regular season but caught two passes for 61 yards in the Steelers’ playoff loss at Denver. Brown missed that game with a concussion, and Coates took advantage of his increased opportunities.
That one game, however, is too small a sample size to conclude that Coates can make such a huge leap in his second season. Coates’ career trajectory is more similar to Wheaton (six catches as a rookie) than to Bryant (28), Brown (16), Emmanuel Sanders (28) or Mike Wallace (39).
The Steelers have taken a wide receiver in the fourth round or earlier in six of their last eight drafts. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them do it again this year, because when it comes to replacing Bryant it seems the more competition they have, the better.