It seems like everybody and their mothers want to pair a tall and large-framed wide receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the early rounds of their 2014 NFL Mock Drafts.
Make no mistake, Pittsburgh’s brass will likely need to add some more personnel to their wide receiver corps if Emmanuel Sanders or Jerricho Cotchery depart during the free agency period this spring. Having to potentially replace 113 catches, 1,342 yards and 16 touchdowns would be no easy task, and the Steelers would likely have to double-dip at the position if both players skip town.
Although larger-framed pass-catchers like Mike Evans of Texas A&M (6’5″ 225 lbs.), Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State (6’5″ 235 lbs.) and Allen Robinson of Penn State (6’3″ 210 lbs.) will garner plenty of buzz among many within Steeler Nation until the draft arrives, I nevertheless have to wonder whether or not Pittsburgh will actually take a tall (6’2″+) wide receiver during the draft process.
When I look at the Steelers’ most productive wide receivers since Plaxico Burress departed during the 2005 offseason, I see a group of pass-catchers who are not necessarily blessed with amazing size or height: Hines Ward (6′), Santonio Holmes (5’10″), Antwaan Randle El (5’10″), Nate Washington (6’1″), Mike Wallace (6′) Emmanuel Sanders (5’11″), Antonio Brown (5’10″) and Jerricho Cotchery (6’1″).
While the Steelers definitely tried to find and develop taller and bigger wide receivers over the last decade (Fred Gibson, Dallas Baker, Limas Sweed, Toney Clemons, etc.), their passing game was a success in large part due to the play of the speedier, more explosive, savvier and grittier pass-catchers on their roster who weren’t necessarily as blessed in the height department as some of their contemporaries around the NFL.
Although their wide receiving corps has essentially lacked a larger and more physically imposing presence outside the numbers since 2005, it did not stop the team from winning three conference titles and two Super Bowl crowns with the likes of their smurfish receivers.
Granted, I am not of the persuasion that the Steelers need to avoid a prospect like Evans, Benjamin or Robinson if they are available for them to take early in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Yet I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Steelers do have two receivers on their roster in the forms of Derek Moye and Justin Brown who could fill the tall receiver role. In addition, Heath Miller is a tall and reliable target in the passing game as well. Furthermore, the team could be inclined to take a joker tight end who can be split wide and in the slot like Eric Ebron of North Carolina or Jace Amaro of Texas Tech too.
Moreover, I would not discount Pittsburgh’s brass from taking shorter yet explosive wide receivers which they have found so much success with over the last decade. Marqise Lee (6′) of Southern Cal or Odell Beckham, Jr. (5’11″) of Louisiana State could prove to be nice replacements for Wallace.
Beckham, Jr.’s teammate Jarvis Landry (6′) could be evolve into a savvy and effective number two target in the mold of Cotchery. In addition, the Steelers could take a chance on the quick yet skinnier-framed Paul Richardson (6’1″) of Colorado or Jared Abbrederis (6’1″) of Wisconsin to fill their wide receiver needs on the second day of the draft.
As I mentioned previously, the Steelers will almost assuredly take one wide receiver in the upcoming NFL Draft. Since Sanders and Cotchery will both be free agents this March, this team will need to add more players to their depth chart and to push the inexperienced depth already on their roster.
Whether the franchise will go the tall receiver route with an early round selection still remains an intriguing question. The Steelers have taken shines to and found success with plenty of shorter pass-catchers in recent seasons, and guys like Lee, Beckham, Jr., Landry, Richardson or Abbrederis could be more enticing for the team to take than the taller receivers whom many within the fanbase are clamoring for the franchise to select this May.
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