The Steelers, Wide Receiver, Insurance, and Some Mid-Round Draft Prospects

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Could Juron Criner be a Steeler? This U of A alum hopes he will. Mandatory Credit: Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

With Mike Wallace without a long term contract and an attractive option as a potential RFA signee, Antonio Brown set to become a RFA in 2013, Jerricho Cotchery a current UFA drawing interest from other teams, and Hines Ward’s recent retirement, the Steelers might want to consider drafting a Wide Receiver this April.

If the Steelers do decide to go the WR route at some point next moth, I believe that they should target a player that is tall, physical, field-stretching, and a Red Zone threat.  Currently, Pittsburgh has guys in the 5’10″-6′ range which are terrific WR’s, but none of them are bringing back any memories of Plaxico Burress creating matchup issues and wreaking havoc like he did when he was zoned in and giving 100%.  If the Steelers want to put the finishing touches on a well-rounded WR corps, putting a guy with that type of skill set on their roster would open up some awesome opportunities for Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger, and the rest of the Offense.

Sure, grabbing a WR for insurance and depth purposes on Day 1 or early on Day 2 is nice and all, and we all can fantasize about the Steelers aggressively pursuing a guy like Michael Floyd, Justin Blackmon, or Stephen Hill.  But right now, the Steelers have more pressing needs on both sides of the ball which they must address (OG, NT, ILB) earlier than the WR position.  Because hey, Ben can’t throw if he’s on his back all the time, Snack is being pursued by Father Time, and there is nobody next to Lawrence Timmons.  Luckily for Pittsburgh, if this is indeed the Draft where they look to acquire a WR to add depth or as a future insurance policy, there are some nice options for them to consider in Rounds 3-5 which I will discuss below.

Juron Criner

Living in Tucson, I have seen quite a bit of Juron Criner and his talent at work on the football field.  And readers, I have liked what I’ve seen over his last three seasons in Tucson.  Thus, I have a firm belief that Criner could be a heck of a steal for Pittsburgh if he lasts into the 3rd Round and Colbert and Co. decide to select him.

As the Wildcats’ most talented WR, Criner established himself as Nick Foles’ go-to-guy, and put up gaudy stats and consistent performances his entire career.  Over the last three seasons, Criner amassed 202 Receptions for 2,770 Yards and 31 TD’s, as he had his way with Pac-10/12 competition over the last two seasons.  In 2010, Criner set career highs in Catches (82), Yards (1,233), and TD’s (11), and in 2011 put up 75 Catches for 956 Yards and 11 TD’s.

While the 6’3″ 224 lb. Criner did not wow anybody with track-star speed, he did become the Wildcats’ premier deep threat and displayed terrific body control on jump-balls.  Inside the Red Zone he was a security blanket for Nick Foles when he wanted to throw a fade route as well.  And while Criner made most of his highlight worthy clips on deep passes and TD catches like the one in the picture above, the part of Criner’s game which I found to be very impressive was his work on the underneath routes and in the short game.  For most of his career, Arizona employed a very short-heavy passing game, and Criner made quite a few fantastic plays on bubble and slip screens in Tucson.

Probably the most impressive example of Criner making a big play in the short game was when he scored what proved to be the winning TD against Arizona State in “The Duel in the Desert” this past season.  Go to the 2:25 mark in the highlight video to see his winning score, or you can tune in to the very beginning to watch him catch a bomb in the video clip as well.

One of Criner’s biggest issues to deal with will be his injury history which could knock him down some draft boards.  He had an appendectomy early last season along with a sprained right knee, and sustained a concussion and mouth injury before the 2010 season began.  I’m sure that teams are doing their due diligence in evaluating Criner’s health and his future in the N.F.L. though.  And if Criner checks out medically (which he should), teams will be interested.  If there aren’t any NT’s or OG’s which excite the Steelers in Round 3 and a healthy Criner is still there, I highly suggest Pittsburgh selects him because they will not be disappointed.

 

Brian Quick

While the raw yet beastly Quick is not as polished as Criner, he could definitely be a player that Pittsburgh targets to play and contribute a great deal in 2013 and beyond.  Hopefully for the Steelers, he will be available by the time they pick Round 3, because he could be a solid developmental pick, and could provide insurance at the WR position in case Wallace and/or Brown head elsewhere in the coming years.

Brian Quick is an intriguing prospect which the Steelers might target. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Although Quick is relatively new to the game of football (only one season of High School experience), he is still one of the most athletic players in this year’s Drat.  Quick honed his outstanding athletic skills on the hardwood in High School before deciding on football when he attended Appalachian State.  With former basketball players emerging as dominant pass catchers at the N.F.L. level like Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham, Quick’s stock should remain high despite him being “new” to football.

While Quick is a bit more experienced of a football player coming out of college than Gates and Graham, that is not to say he is a finished product. Quick’s biggest disadvantages will likely be adjusting to the caliber of Corners in the N.F.L., adjusting to the overall speed of the game, and gaining overall experience against said competition to boot.  The CB’s in the Southern Conference are not of consistent caliber which Quick will see in the N.F.L. and like most first year WR’s which come into the League, he will not be an immediate starter.

What makes Quick such an intriguing and wanted prospect however are his capabilities to create mismatches and big plays in the Red Zone.  Quick’s 6’4” 220 lb. frame could also come in handy for a Steelers’ team which had piss-poor productivity in the Red Zone under the Bruce Arians regime.  How awesome would it be to see the fade route come back on a consistent basis for the Steelers?  Sporting a basketball background with superb body control, Quick would immediately make opponents have to account for him, and I’m sure Big Ben would love to have a tall, imposing target to find when he needs him the most.

Quick likely won’t last into the 4th Round, and he might not even fall to Pittsburgh in Round 3 if there is a run on WR’s in Round 2.  Thus, Quick might be the player I’ve listed which is least likely to be picked by the Steelers.  Still, if Colbert goes BPA at pick #87, and Quick is still on the board, don’t be shocked if the talented Quick heads to Pittsburgh.

 

Tommy Streeter

Much like Brian Quick, Tommy Streeter will be a selection for a franchise based more on his upside than his playing/contributing ability in the present.  Although Streeter’s upside is high, he does lack one very important thing at the moment which could scare some teams away: game experience.

It’s a shock, but for a prospect that is getting as much attention as he has been, Streeter only started 8 games during his career at Miami, and only played in a total of 30 during his three year playing career (Red-Shirt Junior).  Some reasons why Streeter did not play a lot ranged from a right wrist injury to issues over playing time with then-O.C. (and former Big Ben QB Coach) Mark Whipple, and both of which likely were discussed at The Combine in Indianapolis.  Still, Streeter performed well in the only extended playing time of his career last season to the tune of 46 Catches, 811 Yards, and 8 TD’s.

While raw, Streeter is a tremendous athlete that the Steelers could use. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

With such little experience under his belt, a great deal work must be done in terms of teaching Streeter the fundamental aspects of being a WR like blocking, route running, and consistency performing at a high level.  Like Quick though, Streeter could find some playing time running 9 routes and creating matchup issues in the Red Zone during his first season in the League, and be brought along at his own pace.

A player like Streeter with a 6’5” 219 lbs. frame that can run a 4.4 40 Yard Dash is not liable to come around very often, and WR needy teams could be willing to take a chance on him early.  Yet even with his tremendous upside, selecting a raw player Streeter too early will be a risky venture for the Steelers if they decide to go after him in Round 3 or before.  Pittsburgh has other needs which trump the WR position at this point and they should not worry about over-drafting a raw product unless they believe he is the real deal.  Still, if Streeter falls into the early 4th Round or the late 3rd after the Steelers pick, it would not shock me at all if Pittsburgh attempted to select him via trade.

 

Marvin McNutt

I’ve actually seen quite a bit of McNutt during his collegiate career (McNutt played Arizona twice and I had The Big Ten Network for the 2009 to 2010 seasons), and I feel that a player of his caliber could be a solid addition to the Steelers’ WR corps..

Even though McNutt does not possess straight-line track-star speed (4.54 40 Yard Dash), he is deceptively fast like Criner, and showed an ability to get behind the Defense with his long strides.  McNutt also possesses a 37″ Vertical Leap which he put on display at the Combine, and his ability to sky and get the ball makes him a threat to win the jump ball every time he steps on the field.

Marvin McNutt has the size and athleticism to succeed at the N.F.L. Level. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-US PRESS WIRE

McNutt is also a fantastic all-around athlete, and actually came to Iowa on scholarship to play QB.  Like most QB’s which make the transition to WR, McNutt runs good routes and understands how the passing game works from both positional angles.  And while McNutt has only been playing WR for 3 years, he still has a wealth of experience after starting 31 games over the past 3 seasons against some tough competition in The Big 10.

In terms of overall productivity, McNutt’s statistics steadily rose from 2008-2011 as he enjoyed one of the finest careers ever by a Hawkeyes WR.  After catching only 1 pass for 11 Yards as a Freshman, McNutt burst onto the scene over his final three campaigns.  From 2009-2011, McNutt’s Catches increased from 34 to 53 to 82, his Receiving Yards totals skyrocketed from 674 to 861 to 1,315, and he even caught all 28 of his TD’s during his final three seasons too (12 in 2011).

Like the other prospects I have previously discussed, McNutt’s size (6’3” 216 lbs.) could be put to good use in the Red Zone.  At Iowa, McNutt showed a knack for scoring TD’s, and Marvin finished his career with the Hawkeyes as the school’s All-Time TD Receptions leader.  Making Defenses account for a player like McNutt (when covered) will only allow guys like Heath Miller to get more open and be targeted more frequently inside the 20.

I see McNutt going anywhere from the end of Round 3 to the middle of Round 5 in next month’s Draft, and Pittsburgh could have their sights set on him after they address their bigger needs on Days 1 and 2.  Finding 4th Round value in a player like McNutt would be awesome for the Steelers, and adding a heady and experienced player like McNutt that brings new dimension to the WR corps could help make the Steelers’ Offense lethal in the coming years.

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