By now, you readers have probably recognized that I am wholeheartedly in favor of G.M. Kevin Colbert and the rest of the Steelers’ brass making Pittsburgh’s 2013 Draft Class “Defensive-Heavy” in nature. Yet as much as I would like to see the Front Office actively try to give their Defense a “face-lift” over the next few months, the Steelers also have some holes on the Offensive side of the ball as well. Currently, the Steelers could stand to use another play-making pass-catcher on their roster, and it would not shock me in the least to see Pittsburgh’s brass attempt to find an upgrade at the Wide Receiver position early in the 2013 Draft. With this in mind, I thought that I would share my thoughts on a couple of Wide Receivers who I believe that the Steelers might decide to target in Round 1 of the Draft.
Why Wide Receiver?
As I pointed out in the latest version of my Mock Draft, the Steelers could definitely be in the market for an upgrade or two at the Wide Receiver position. “Butterfingers” Wallace is on his way out the door for a bigger/undeserving pay-day elsewhere, while Jerricho Cotchery is set to become a UFA this March. My hope is that the Pittsburgh is able to bring Cotchery back to pair with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders next year, because there could be literally zero depth behind them. Sure, I guess that the Steelers might have the soon to be 36 year-old Plaxico Burress (an upcoming UFA) and David Gilreath on the roster at the moment. But I definitely believe that this Offense could use a more effective and dynamic pass-catching option to add to the mix behind Brown and Sanders.
What Pittsburgh’s Receiving Corps ultimately lacks first and foremost is size, especially if Burress is not brought back. Do not get me wrong, Brown and Sanders are fine options for Big Ben to target in the passing game. In fact, on shorter and intermediate routes, they form a terrific duo, and I believe that Brown needs to be used more in a field-stretching capacity on some longer routes. Yet both players possess neither a great deal of size, nor are they the type of physically imposing pass-catchers for Ben Roethlisberger to have at his disposal in the Red Zone. With Pittsburgh’s need for another pass-catcher in mind, I believe that there are two Wide Receivers in particular who I believe that G.M. Kevin Colbert might target in Round 1 this April: Keenan Allen of Cal-Berkeley and Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee.
If Keenan Allen were to fall to Pittsburgh at #17, and Defensive players like Alec Ogletree and Alex Okafor were not on the board anymore, I would have no issue if the former Golden Bear was selected by them. Allen is a big-bodied (6’3″ 210 lbs.) pass-catcher who had an extremely productive three-year collegiate career at Berkeley. As a Sophomore in 2011, Allen outshined his then-teammate and current Cincinnati Bengal Marvin Jones when he racked up 98 Catches for 1,343 Yards and 6 TD’s and was named 1st-team All-PAC 12 by the Coaches.
Things looked bright for Allen heading into 2012, but erratic play at the Quarterback position from Zach Maynard coupled with a minor knee injury limited Allen. While his statistics last year were not as gaudy as they were during his Sophomore campaign, Keenan was nevertheless able to rack up 61 gabs for 737 Yards and 6 TD’s before he was shelved for the year after 9 games due to his PCL injury which did not require surgery.
I believe that Allen would be a solid addition to Pittsburgh’s Wide Receiving corps, and should emerge to be a very dangerous compliment to both Brown and Sanders for Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley. In addition to Allen’s large frame, he possesses the ability to not only run crisp routes, but has also flashed the ability to make plays in the short, intermediate, deep, and Red Zone areas of the passing game. During his collegiate career, Allen lined up at and performed well when used the slot and outside the numbers, so the types of matchup issues he could help to create/take advantage of for Big Ben in the passing game would be downright fantastic. While he is definitely not the speedster Wallace is or possesses the shiftiness of a Brown or a Sanders, Allen does have a good amount of straight line speed for a guy of his size, can make guys miss in the open field, and is a tough pass-catcher to bring down due to his size.
Allen however might not fall to Pittsburgh in Round 1, especially when one considers how teams in front of Pittsburgh (particularly Miami at #12 and Carolina at #14) could stand to use more help at Wide Receiver than the Steelers do. Allen has a translatable skill-set to the N.F.L., and he could raise his Draft-stock even more with a strong work-out period over the next few months. If he does somehow fall to Pittsburgh at #17, I will be particularly intrigued because Kevin Colbert and the rest of the Front Office could employ a “B.P.A.” (Best Player Available) strategy and select Allen if there are no other players they believe could make as big of an impact as he could.
I will admit it, I did not know anything about the Junior College (Hutchinson C.C.) Transfer Cordarrelle Patterson before the 2012 season began. While Patterson apparently enjoyed a terrific 2-year JUCO career in Kansas before he joined the Volunteers, I was unaware what an explosive play-maker he actually was. But after his season opening performance against N.C. State (6 Catches, 93 Yards, 1 TD, 2 Rushes, 72 Yards, 1 TD), I along with every other college football fan began to take notice of the fleet-footed pass-catcher.
During his first year of Division 1-A football, Patterson put his play-making ability on full display. Overall, the 6’3″ 205 lb. Patterson racked up 46 Catches for 778 Yards and 5 TD’s, rushed the ball 25 times for 308 Yards and 3 TD’s, and took 1 Punt and 1 Kickoff back for a score! For his efforts, Cordarrelle was named 1st Team All-SEC by the A.P. and the Coaches as the Conference’s top “All-Purpose” Player. Patterson was so dynamic last year that he even set the school record for All-Purpose Yards (1,858) gained in a season!
Probably Patterson’s best skills, and the ones which make scouts salivate over his upside are his size, speed, and positional versatility. Patterson lined up both outside the numbers and in the slot last year, and was even used out of the backfield effectively on designed run plays too. His cutting and shifting ability in the open field is ridiculously awesome, and he can reach his top speed faster than Allen can as was illustrated when he returned Kicks and Punts for the Volunteers. At this stage in his career though, Patterson is a much more raw prospect than Allen is in the areas of route-running and blocking. In my opinion, he also does not possess the same caliber of hands that Allen does, and he was not particularly productive as a pass receiver against some of Tennessee’s best competition (combined 8 Catches for 107 Yards against Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi State).
Although Patterson should be a 1st Round pick, his skill-set is still a bit raw, and he would unlikely be a Top 10 pick in my opinion due to the risk involved in selecting a player who might not contribute early. Yet if Patterson tears things up at The Combine, impresses at his Pro Day, and does well in each and every interview, his stock will continue to rise. If Pittsburgh took Patterson and was able to hone his skills, the trio of him, Brown, and Sanders might form the most explosive/big-play group of Wide Receivers in the League, and make the Steelers a threat to score on any play if either made a guy miss, or got open. While Pittsburgh would probably have to wait longer for steady Offensive production from Patterson than Allen, the former Volunteer’s upside could be too great for the Front Office to pass up if he is indeed a “B.P.A.” at #17.
Look, I am not going to sit here and say that making numbers of moves to rebuild the Defense is not the Steelers’ #1 priority this offseason. In fact, I hope that it is indeed the Front Office’s #1 priority to pour their efforts into numerous personnel acquisitions to make Pittsburgh’s rapidly aging Defense stronger. Yet I am not going to dismiss in any way shape or form the fact that Pittsburgh’s Offense needs significant upgrades at the Wide Receiver position.
Pittsburgh has gone the “WR in Round 1″ route twice during Colbert’s time with the Steelers (2000-present), and despite their off-field issues, Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes have enjoyed productive N.F.L. careers’. Colbert even traded up in Round 1 back in 2006 to select Holmes after he fell out of the top 20 of the Draft, so he has illustrated that he is unafraid to pounce on a play-making pass-catcher if they fall beyond a certain range.
If the Steelers elect to fill their Defensive needs before they ultimately upgrade their Offense during the upcoming Draft process, then I would completely understand the logic behind the decision. But keep in mind readers that Pittsburgh has rebuilding to do on the Offensive side of the ball, and that the Receiving corps will be in need of some upgrades and depth. If that means the Steelers taking a Wide Receiver on Day 1 like Allen or Patterson, then that’s great. Or if it means that Colbert & Co. find a mid-Round “gem,” then that’s terrific also. One way or another though, the Steelers’ Front Office will try to find a way to upgrade their situation at Wide Receiver during this offseason.
Readers: Should the Steelers go in Wide Receiver direction in Round 1? Should they address the position on Day 2 or Day 3?
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