The State of Steeler WRs after the first 4 games

By G.Stryker

After a lackluster month of productivity from the Steelers wide receivers, they are starting to show some promise moving into the second quarter of the season.

Antonio Brown is all world. Despite being held back last week by the Ravens (4 receptions for 34 yards), Brown is still 2nd in the league for both receiving yards (by 3 yards) and receptions (by one catch). Brown still needs to be accounted for on every play, as he has the big play ability and consistency, to make an explosive play at any time. Easily the best receiver on this team, by a mile.

Martavis Bryant had a tough first quarter of the season. He’s shown his ability to get open deep, but his opportunities are either dropped or overthrown. Not to be discouraged, he is starting to improve as an all around receiver, by showing he can use his size and big hands, to make tough catches in traffic. By high pointing the football, with his size, he ensures he will be the first player there, and will lead to bigger plays as the season progresses. He is also improving with his willingness to block in the running game. Something that he didn’t seem to have much interest in doing 2 years ago.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is also starting to use his body inside to make contested catches. With his hard work and toughness, JuJu has separated himself as the clear cut #3 receiver on the team. Leading the receivers in touchdowns with 2, he is gaining confidence and playing with swagger. Much like Hines Ward before him, he is in the game on every play, because of his pride in blocking on running plays. Spending a second round pick may have been a head scratcher to some, but is now starting to show how important it is to have 3 go-to receivers on the field at all times. His size, shiftiness, and toughness are the reasons why he was drafted, and the expectation to be on the field as the slot receiver was high. He has definitively locked down that spot in just his 4th game. As a young player, with continued improvement, he will be very exciting to watch as the season progresses and he becomes more comfortable with the plays.

Justin Hunter, in my opinion, is the Steelers’ best option as the 4th receiver. Another tall, fast WR that is great at using his hands and size to make contested catches. This past game was the first time seeing these 4 WRs the field at the same time, and it showed a lot of promise. Enough that Bryant even bumped down inside to play the slot a few times. Something I would have not thought he was capable of, but he’s starting to prove a lot of people wrong. Justin’s size and speed, as well as his position flexibility to play any of the 3 WR spots, is a mismatch and an advantage to put the 4 best receivers on the field in 4WR sets.

Darrius Heyward-Bey is as savvy as WRs get in this league. He has the speed to get open deep, and is also a great option to run the ball on end arounds or reverses. He is an excellent gunner on coverage teams, and works hard to be the first one down the field to make tackles in those situations. His ability to play any WR position as well as special teams, makes him an excellent option to always be active on game day. He’s a great asset if the Steelers go 5 wide, or to sub in for different plays during the game. It’s also nice to have a former first round pick, who can immediately plug and play in case of injury to any of the starting receiver positions.

Eli Rogers still has excellent hands, is a great route runner, and can make plays in traffic. The trouble is, he is losing out in the numbers game. Eli is only a slot receiver. Since JuJu has separated himself to be a better and more skilled all-around receiver, it makes no sense for JuJu to lose snaps to Eli anymore. Hunter is also starting to show that he is a bigger matchup problem if the Steelers use 4 WRs. Since Eli was taken off of the punt return team, there is no reason to give him a helmet on game day, unless there is an injury to Brown or JuJu. Though he may have the second best hands on the team (second only to Brown), he is losing playing time, due to the fact that this is one of the deepest and most skilled WR rosters in the league.

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