Making A Hall of Fame Case For Big Ben: A Look At Receivers After Leaving Pittsburgh

Photo by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Adam McCoy
SteelerNation.com

If you ask anyone in Pittsburgh if Ben Roethlisberger should be in the Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done, you’re likely to get a resounding “yes” from yinzers everywhere. Yet there are some out there who still doubt Ben’s accolades, and cite some of his 2004 draft partners as better candidates. If you ask me, that’s ridiculous, and Ben is without a doubt in my mind, a future Hall of Famer. So let’s dive into it and make the case for Ben Roethlisberger to be in the Hall of Fame.

Over Ben’s 15 year career, a certain stigma has surrounded Ben, that he makes receivers better than they are. Some believe it, some don’t. Thankfully 15 years is a long time to stack up some pretty convincing evidence in Ben’s favor.

 

Santonio Holmes 

1st round, 25th overall pick

2006 (PIT) – 86 targets, 49 receptions, 824 yards, 2 touchdowns

2007 (PIT) – 85 targets, 52 receptions, 942 yards, 8 touchdowns (LED LEAGUE IN YPR, 18.1)

2008 (PIT) – 114 targets, 55 receptions, 821 yards, 5 touchdowns

2009 (PIT) – 138 targets, 79 receptions, 1,248 yards, 5 touchdowns

2010 (NYJ) – 96 targets, 52 receptions, 746 yards, 6 touchdowns

2011 (NYJ) – 101 targets, 51 receptions, 654 yards, 8 touchdowns

2012 (NYJ) – 41 targets, 20 receptions, 272 yards, 1 touchdown 

2013 (NYJ) – 59 targets, 23 receptions, 456 yards, 1 touchdown

2014 (CHI) – 14 targets, 8 receptions, 67 yards

 

Santonio Holmes will forever go down in Pittsburgh and NFL lore by making what arguably might be the best catch, in the best play in Super Bowl history. Holmes had quite a career in Pittsburgh leading up to, and even after that catch. Santonio Holmes started his career hot, being the number two man behind Hines Ward, a position he held onto his whole time in Pittsburgh. In 2009, he and Hines Ward became the first Steelers receiver duo to have 1,000+ yards each since 2002 (Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress). Unfortunately, everything past that is forgotten history. Though Santonio Holmes saw some success his first two years with the New York Jets with Mark Sanchez at the helm, his best season didn’t even beat his worst season in Pittsburgh (his rookie year in 2006). In October of the 2013 season, Santonio Holmes suffered a grade 4 Lisfranc fracture. That’s a tough injury to come back walking and running from, let alone playing football. Holmes returned in 2013, but wasn’t the same. He went to the Chicago Bears for one season before retiring in 2014. Holmes certainly didn’t go on and fail without Ben at quarterback, but he never came close to matching his numbers in his last season in Pittsburgh.  

 

Markus Wheaton 

3rd round, 79th overall pick

2013 (PIT) – 13 targets, 6 receptions, 64 yards

2014 (PIT) – 86 targets, 53 receptions, 644 yards, 2 touchdowns

2015 (PIT) – 79 targets, 44 receptions, 749 yards, 5 touchdowns

2016 (PIT) – 9 targets, 4 receptions, 51 yards, 1 touchdown

2017 (CHI) – 17 targets, 3 receptions, 51 yards

2018 (PHI) – No Stats

 

Markus Wheaton didn’t get to see significant playing time until his second year in Pittsburgh after the departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. When he did get that playing time, he thrived as a 3rd receiving option, able to play outside and in the slot. Unfortunately, injury struck for Wheaton in 2016 as he was placed on IR in November for a shoulder injury. Wheaton would depart to Chicago in 2017, but injuries followed him there, and to Philadelphia where he was released after one game, and officially announced his retirement in January of 2019.  

 

Martavis Bryant 

4th round, 118th overall pick

2014 (PIT) – 48 targets, 26 receptions, 549 yards, 8 touchdowns 

2015 (PIT) – 92 targets, 50 receptions, 765 yards, 6 touchdowns 

2016 (PIT) – suspended

2017 (PIT) – 84 targets, 50 receptions, 603 yards, 3 touchdowns 

2018 (OAK) – 27 targets, 19 receptions, 266 yards 

 

Ahh, the first trouble child. Despite all the off-field issues, when Martavis Bryant was on the field for the Steelers, he was nothing short of spectacular on deep balls. Bryant didn’t see the field his whole rookie year, but once he did, he exploded. Bryant became the deep threat to compliment Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton and found Ben looking his way often. 2015 saw more success for Bryant on the field, but trouble off the field when he received his first suspension under the league’s substance abuse policy. The trouble continued as he was banned for the entire 2016 season. Upon his return, the Steelers had drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster who took over the number two role in the offense. Though Bryant received plenty of attention and still matched a career high in receptions, he didn’t like the young rookie taking his spot, even going as far as to call him out on Twitter. The Steelers then traded him to Oakland on draft day for a 3rd round pick. Bryant went on to play half a season with the Oakland Raiders, not seeing much attention from Raiders quarterback, Derek Carr. In December of 2018, Bryant was suspended indefinitely again for abusing the same policy. He has applied for reinstatement, but there’s no word on whether it will be granted to him. 

 

Jesse James 

5th round, 160th overall

2015 (PIT) – 11 targets, 8 receptions, 56 yards, 1 touchdown

2016 (PIT) – 60 targets, 39 receptions, 338 yards, 3 touchdowns

2017 (PIT) – 63 targets, 43 receptions, 372 yards, 3 touchdowns

2018 (PIT) – 39 targets, 30 receptions, 423 yards, 2 touchdowns

2019 (DET) – 27 targets, 16 receptions, 142 yards

 

“The Outlaw” Jesse James had an intriguing career in Pittsburgh. After Heath Miller retired in 2015, James was thrust into somewhat of a starting role, rotating with Ladarius Green and then Vance McDonald, but still seeing a significant amount of field time.  This led to James being if nothing, efficient. He was never going to wow you with his speed, but he became a big, reliable option for Ben on 3rd downs and in the red zone. After leaving Pittsburgh to pursue a larger contract in free agency, James landed with the Detroit Lions and saw very limited involvement in the offense in his first year. 

 

Honorable Mention: Antonio Brown

I don’t need to get into this one, you know the story.

 

Conclusion:

Ben has gifted the Steelers with a unique gift over the years of his career, the ability to use early draft picks on other needs, and looking for receivers on day three.  Before 2017 when the Steelers drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers had only spent a first or second round pick on a wide receiver twice during Ben’s career. Ben has a knack with taking young receivers, and making them thrive with the Steelers. Whether it’s his ability to extend plays, or his camera-faking pump-fake, he has a way to make his receivers open, something a lot of players find themselves missing when they leave Pittsburgh.

 

Who else should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!

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3 Comments

  1. Rick Hildenbrand

    January 28, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    Ben is without a doubt hall of fame 1st round his stats with multiple Super Bowl apearences with 2 Super Bowl wins.

  2. KugZilla

    February 1, 2020 at 12:18 am

    Mike Wallace?

  3. Pingback: Making A Hall of Fame Case For Big Ben: The Numbers – SteelerNation.com

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