Entering training camp, this is my projected depth chart:
(Players in bold are projected to make the roster)
LWR (X) Donte Moncrief, Diontae Johnson
SWR (Y) JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ryan Switzer, Eli Rogers
RWR (Z) James Washington
Johnny Holton, Tevin Jones, Trey Griffey
Receivers lost: Antonio Brown (Traded), Darrius Heyward-Bey (FA-currently unsigned)
I’ve placed the deep ball receivers with size on the Right (Z), more polished route running receivers on the Left (X), and slot guys are in the Middle (Y). Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers kept six receivers, and I expect them to do the same this season.
The Steelers lost all-world wide receiver Antonio Brown when he was traded away to the Oakland Raiders. Losing such an impactful player would normally destroy a receiving corp, but the Steelers made sure to scour the world to find good wide receiver talent. One of those draft picks traded to the Steelers for AB was used to select Diontae Johnson, a rookie from Toledo. He has the diversity of AB, but not the polish. His excellent route running and ability to beat the press at the line shows me he can play the X or Y instantly, and may later be used as a Z receiver. Diontae Spencer shares Johnson’s first name, and also shares his position flexibility across all three WR spots. Being a very productive WR in the CFL, Spencer proved up north that he can be dangerous anywhere he lines up on the field. Whether inside or outside, his crisp route running and sure hands show he can get open and make plays. The Steelers also found Johhny Holton as a free agent (last playing in Oakland). He is a blazing fast Z receiver with size and length. He is also a willing special teams coverage player which could give him an advantage if he hopes to make this roster.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is coming off his first Pro Bowl season. JuJu will be the main receiver and should always be on the field in 1, 2, or 3+ WR sets. Keeping him as a large bodied slot receiver is a mismatch across the league who use smaller bodied corners to cover slot receivers. I expect the Steelers to continue to exploit that mismatch. Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers are two receivers who only play the slot, and are both capable returners in the kicking/punt return game. Switzer did line up in the backfield at times, and ran the ball 6 times out of those sets. Right now, that gives him a leg up at the second slot.
The Z receiver position has James Washington returning. Washington is only suited to play the Z, and thus far, has not been utilized on special teams. He had a difficult rookie season where he garnered a lot of snaps, but had very little production to show for it. He is a willing blocker and is probably the second best blocking WR behind JuJu on the team. Tevin Jones and Trey Griffey were both on the practice squad last season. Both of them made plays last year in the preseason, and it will be interesting to see how they have progressed this training camp after a year of seasoning with this coaching staff.
I think the Steeelrs will keep six WR’s as they did last year, but most of this reasoning is a numbers game because the Steelers don’t really have a 4th running back or 4th TE (let alone a 3rd TE), that would be more impactful than the Steelers’ 6th WR. The words this year to describe the receiving corps are “position flexibility’. JuJu, Spencer, and DJ can line up anywhere. DJ, Spencer, Switzer, and Eli all have KR/PR experience. Holton has gunner experience on special teams, as Darrius Heyward-Bey did before him. Washington really needs to show he has improved over last year’s performance to stave off some tough, position flexible receivers behind him.
My first depth chart shows the five Steelers that have active game experience, while adding their 3rd round draft pick to the mix as the 6th. This should be an exciting and competitive training camp, and this depth chart could look drastically different by the end of camp.
Who do you think should make the final roster as a wide receiver? Comment below and share your thoughts.