Taking a Look at the Steelers’ WR room

Joe Sargent/Getty Images

By CJ Lester


WR’s currently on the roster (10)


Juju Smith-Schuster (6-1, 215lbs)      

James Washington (5-11, 213lbs)                  

Diontae Johnson (5-10, 183lbs)                       

Ryan Switzer (5-8,185lbs)                                 

Deon Cain (6-2, 202lbs)                                     

Johnny Holton (6-3, 190lbs) 

Amara Darboh (6-2, 215lbs)

Anthony Johnson (6-2, 220lbs)

Jamal Custis (6-5, 213lbs)

Quadree Henderson (5-8, 192lbs)


A position that a lot of Pittsburgh Steelers fans would see as set is the wide receiver position. The one thing that the Steelers lack in the wide receiver room is experience. The room does not currently have an older veteran that can take the lead to show the younger guys the ins and outs of the position. This past season, we saw Juju Smith-Schuster take on the leadership role, being the most experienced receiver in the room other than Ryan Switzer. Smith-Schuster being only 23, the Steelers’ WR room really lacks a truly experienced NFL wide receiver.

The question that is in the back of the mind of every Steelers fan; is Juju really a number 1 wide receiver? The quarterback trouble this past season did not really give us a chance to answer this question accurately. The offense took a huge step back this season due to the season ending injury of Ben Roethlisberger and struggles of Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges. I believe the Steelers are confident enough in Smith-Schuster’s ability to be their number 1 receiver. In addition to the struggles of the Steelers’ quarterbacks, Juju also faced his own struggles with injuries during the 2019 season. Hopefully, with Ben Roethlisberger coming back from elbow surgery next season along with Smith-Schuster getting 100% healthy, Juju will really show fans and the team his capability of being a number 1 threat.

Next up, James Washington really showed great strides in his play during his 2nd season despite having poor quarterback play. Washington totaled 44 catches for 735 yards and 3 TD’s. Washington showed great growth and will continue to grow with Big Ben back at the helm next season.

When first drafted in the 3rd round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Diontae Johnson was a small, but speedy receiver that fell under the radar a bit for a lot of fans. This in part of playing his collegiate football in the MAC conference for Toledo. The late WR’s coach of the Steelers, Darryl Drake, spoke highly of the receiver after the team selected him in the 3rd round.

“He’s a tremendously gifted young man, the most naturally gifted catcher I’ve seen in a long time,” Drake said.

Johnson was able to have a very promising rookie season, catching 59 passes for 680 yards, and 5 TD’s. Johnson also showed talent as a punt returner, returning 20 punts for 248 yards and 1 TD. We all remember the beautiful 85-yard punt return touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals. I would love to see Johnson improve on an already impressive rookie campaign in order to make a bigger impact with the Steelers’ offense next season.

Ryan Switzer only appeared in 9 games for the Steelers in 2019. He was placed on IR in November after battling several injuries during the year. Switzer only caught 8 passes for 27 yards in the 9 games he played. The Steelers tried to get Switzer involved in the quick passing game with screen passes, but he was really never able to make defenders miss and was stopped for short gains or losses on those plays. Switzer was also supposed to be the Steelers designated return man, but never really showed the ability to break a nice return on punts or kickoffs. On returns, he only averaged 11.4 yards per return on 17 return attempts. A lot of fans could argue that other players should have made the team over Switzer in 2019, but his familiarity with the offense and Ben Roethlisberger probably helped secure his spot on the roster. I am not so sure his familiarity will help him this upcoming season.

Deon Cain was signed away from the Indianapolis Colts practice squad in 2019 and showed ability to make contested catches. Cain made 5 catches for 72 yards with the Steelers in just 5 games. He is not a lock to make the team, but could battle for a roster spot next year.

Johnny Holton was signed last off-season by the Steelers and showed potential to be a nice speed deep threat for Ben Roethlisberger and the offense. Those aspirations were shot down after Big Ben went down with injury and the Steelers offense showed little to no potential to complete the deep ball. Holton only caught 3 passes for 21 yards on 15 targets. Look for the Steelers to add a speedy deep threat in the draft or free agency to compete with Holton for a roster spot this upcoming season.

Amara Darboh was signed to the Steelers practice squad in November as insurance after injuries to Juju-Smith Schuster and Diontae Johnson. Eventually, Darboh was promoted to the 53-man roster, but never saw any game action for the Steelers in 2019. Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin liked the “potential upside” of Darboh, which is why the team released Tevin Jones in order to promote Darboh. Tomlin’s comments about Darboh’s upside are intriguing for next year, as he may be able to compete for a roster spot.

In January, the Steelers signed 3 receivers to reserve/future contracts. These contracts will not go into effect until the beginning of the new league year on March 18th. The receivers added under reserve/future contracts were Anthony Johnson, Jamal Custis, and Quadree Henderson. Henderson being a familiar face actually signed with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie in 2018. In 2018, he spent time with the New York Giants for 5 games as a return man. While he did not initially make the team in 2018, the Steelers brought him back to the practice squad in 2019. As for Johnson and Custis, both show potential as big body type receivers for the Steelers.


Potential Additions through the NFL Draft/ Free Agency:

Steelers fans can see that the WR room is lacking experience and the team may look into adding an experienced NFL receiver through free agency. With limited cap space, do not look for the Steelers to add a big name to the position group this off-season, but they could add a deep threat receiver like Jaron Brown, Paul Richardson, or Breshad Perriman. The cap space may be limited, but these are some options the Steelers could potentially afford after the team cuts ties with some other players on the roster.

As for the NFL Draft, this is a top-heavy wide receiver class. The Steelers could look to add to the room in the mid rounds, while still adding a very talented wide receiver. Look for players like Denzel Mims, Collin Johnson, KJ Hill, or Bryan Edwards. The Steelers really like their mid-late round receivers to groom into big-time players and they have an excellent track record of doing so!


Should the Steelers look to add an experienced wide receiver in free agency or draft another young contributor? Let us know in the comments below!


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