Aug 24, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton (11) scores a touchdown past Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Neiko Thorpe (38) in the second half at Heinz Field. The Chiefs won the game in overtime, 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receiver Still A Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Priority

After back-to-back 8-8 seasons the Steelers have taken a different approach to this offseason and are much more active in free agency than anyone anticipated. They’ve filled holes in some spots and created competitions in others, particularly in the receiving corps. Even with the free agency additions, the Pittsburgh Steelers will still be eyeing the wide receiver talent in next month’s NFL Draft.

The Steelers responded to the free agent departures of two wide receivers with two free agent signings. Now it wasn’t really an even exchange because the Steelers lost their No. 2 receiver in Emmanuel Sanders and their No. 3 receiver in Jerricho Cotchery. They signed Lance Moore to presumably be their No. 3 option and Darrius Heyward-Bey was just signed most likely to provide competition to the inexperienced Wheaton, Moye, Brown, and the remaining wide receivers who will report to Latrobe in August. At this point in time depth charts really don’t mean a whole lot anyway. Who the No. 2, 3, or 4 wide receiver will be is a question that will be answered after the “football in shorts” is done and the pads come on.

The Steelers went into this offseason knowing that Emmanuel Sanders would most likely be priced out; in fact they didn’t even make a contract offer to him, presumably to allow Markus Wheaton to step into his shoes. However, with 6 career receptions to his credit, I don’t blame the Steelers for wanting to throw some more bodies in the mix to earn that No. 2 spot aside Antonio Brown.

They won’t stop at their free agency signings either. The draft “experts” over at ESPN are speculating the Steelers will be after a wide receiver with one of their first three picks in the draft. While the top 2 receiver draft prospects in Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans might not be there at the 15th pick, the draft is expected to be deep with talent, albeit underclassmen talent, but still talent at the wide receiver positions.

Basically the Steelers are in no way going to rest on their laurels after inking Darrius Heyward-Bey, a supposed first round bust from the Oakland Raiders who had the fastest speed in the 2009 draft, even over Mike Wallace. I’m predicting a healthy competition for Emmanuel Sanders’ old spot as the No. 2 receiver. The eventual winner might not even be on the roster as of today. Whoever wants it the most will earn it.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft Antonio Brown Darrius Heyward-Bey Lance Moore Markus Wheaton Pittsburgh Steelers Steelers Free Agency 2014

  • Dom DiTolla

    Unless Evans falls to them @15 or they trade down later in round one for someone like Benjamin, I hope they wait until Day 2 to address that need. Plenty of quality guys should still be available.

    • Kimmy

      This long wait to the draft is a slow torture.

      • Dom DiTolla

        You have no idea how it is for me every year. Lol. Waiting for the draft is like waiting for Christmas for me.

        • Kimmy

          LOL I can see that. This year is particularly rough being that the draft is 2 weeks later than usual. It’s still over a month away!

  • datdudedre’

    I think there’s a misconception among Steeler fans that we need to take a wide receiver early in the draft. I tend to disagree. You see, we have a Pro Bowl wide receiver in Antonio Brown, who just set a team record for receiving yards in a season. So we don’t need a star, we have one. What we need is a number 2 guy, someone who can ease the load on Brown. Markus Wheaton will be given every opportunity to win this role. Lance Moore can man the slot and is there for insurance in case Wheaton isn’t ready. So we have our top 3 receivers already. Add Darrius Heyward-Bey, Derek Moye and Justin Brown to the mix, and any rookie at this point would be a luxury pick for the future. We just have too many other needs to address the position early. It’s a deep draft for receivers, so we can still get a quality guy later. We’re not good enough to concentrate too heavily on one position. CB, DE and TE are all positions we should have ahead of receiver at this point. I could see us taking one in round 4, and grooming him to take a bigger role next year.

    • ApexSteel

      I disagree. We’re going to need more than just one good receiver to win football games and with players like Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr in this draft why would we pass up on the position? And if AB gets injured then what? We’d have Lance Moore, maybe DHB, or a handful of mid to late rounders. Cornerback is a position of need right up there with Wideout and I would say D-end is next if those positions aren’t available, but tight end? We’re good on that front.

      • datdudedre’

        Sure, in today’s NFL you can never have too many receivers. But again, it is the deepest position in the draft. We have already invested in the position, whether people are satisfied with Moore and Heyward-Bey or not. We have to trust the process. Wheaton was drafted last year to replace Sanders this year. He very well could be the next Sanders, so let’s give him a chance first. Moore is two years removed from a 1,000 yard season, and only fell out of favor in New Orleans because they wanted to give youngsters Kenny Stills and Nick Toon more snaps. I think Brown, Wheaton and Moore will form a solid trio like the one we had the last two years with Brown, Sanders and Cotchery. Heyward-Bey is no star, but he’s no bum either. I think he’ll win the number 4 receiver job, so any rookie added will be groomed to replace Moore or Heyward-Bey next year. With that being the case, why go receiver early in the draft when he won’t be needed right away? No need to go there early unless we needed a starter. We’re basically “renting” Moore and DHB, so we do need to add a player, just not early. This draft will be deep enough that we can still find a solid receiver in the later rounds. Don’t forget that Pro Bowler Antonio Brown was a 5th rounder huimself. So we’d be foolish to go receiver in either of the first 2 rounds, with glaring needs at CB and DE (we still don’t know who our left end will be) and even NT. TE was mentioned only because of how inadequate we were when Heath was injured last year. There were times we used an extra tackle at TE because of how ineffective the backups were. Heath is as solid as they come. But he is getting up there in age and has been getting banged up lately. A youngster needs to be drafted soon so that he can sit and learn for a few seasons, while getting his feet wet in double TE sets.

        • ApexSteel

          I don’t think we should reach for a wideout, but if Mike Evans falls to us then I say we take him over anyone just because of how dominant he was. As for Wheaton we have no idea how he’ll progress so I can’t be too sure Now the signings of Moore and Heyward-Bey shouldn’t effect our draft thought process at all.

          AB is a star, Wheaton MIGHT pan out, and Moore is a good option at slot, but after that there is nothing that’s for sure. DHB has great size and speed but awful hands so if he’s not a bum he’s only one step away from it and Brown and Moye are just simply unproven. Now a problem we had even last year was redzone efficiency and our two best redzone receivers are now gone so we need to replace that with a bigger reciever.

          Like I said Corner and DE are big needs, but I’m convinced that the top two CBs will be gone before 15 and we can find good ones later one. I also believe we’re waiting until June to resign Keisel and we’re going to get his replacement in the mid rounds.

          As for the tight-end spot we were running that unbalanced formation until our O-line finally gelled and Matt Spaeth came back off the IR later on. After that we were fine. And even still the top TEs in this class won’t help that anyway they’re just larger slot receivers rather than Heath Miller types.

          • datdudedre’

            You make a damn good case, that’s for sure. I agree that if Evans is there at 15 (I think he will taken by then), and Dennard is not, then we should take Evans (or any other higher rated player) than reach for a CB or DE. Jason Verrett is the 3rd rated corner, but he’s 5’10″ and is considered a reach at 15. So if Dennard is gone, wide receiver is fair game (though Louis Nix would be interesting). But I still say trust the system. We drafted Wheaton for this sole purpose. Before we address the position with a 1st round pick, we have to give him a chance. Numbers were brought in for depth, so now the focus should shift to another position. The draft is deep at wideout. In taking one in the 3rd round, we would still be getting a quality player. The same goes for cornerback, but we need a bigger impact there. Ideally, we’d like a rookie to win the nickel job, continue to progress weekly, get himself on the field by midseason, then be ready to take over next year. That player is traditionally found in the 1st or 2nd round. Dennard HAS to be the pick if he’s there. Defensive line would be tempting as well if Dennard is gone, as would C.J. Mosley at ILB. I think we have enough at receiver to allow us to pass on it in the 1st round. The offense has Big Ben, Antonio Brown, 2 good backs and Heath Miller. We absolutely HAVE to get better on defense.