Wide Receivers: Understanding How the Steelers Utilize Them

By G. Stryker

Who’s making the team? Before any discussion can occur on which wide receiver the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to keep, you first have to understand how they use their WR’s and where the current receivers fit in those roles.

The Steelers mainly utilize a three WR set. They are often referred to as the X, Y, and Z.

The most polished route running (“possession” receivers) are the (X), and Antonio Brown is one of the best X’s in the game. Darrius Heyward-Bey backed him up, and JuJu Smith-Schuster played there as well when AB was out. Slot guys are the (Y). JuJu, Ryan Switzer, and Eli Rogers played the Y for the Steelers last year. Deep ball receivers with speed and sometimes size fit the (Z), and last year James Washington and Justin Hunter played that spot. So now we have some new players, and some new roles for other receivers. Let’s take a look at where the current Steelers receivers fit:

X) AB is long gone, and JuJu should be sliding over to handle the X this season. It will be a tough transition from being a big guy in the slot, to being the receiver most targeted to defend on offense. Diontae Johnson was drafted by the Steelers to play the X. Though he has to work on his hand positioning, his route running is why the Steelers picked him up. His film is a lot like AB’s from college, and his kick return ability may make him the full time returner as well. We also have another Diontae joining the team from the CFL. Diontae Spencer comes in after 4 years in the CFL putting together some solid production. It looks like he will compete both as a receiver and returner, so this battle could heat up as camp wears on.

Y) JuJu should slide to the X after starting in the Y last year. Ryan Switzer now becomes the top option in the middle. He will have to work hard to keep the top slot spot as well as his kick return duties, since he has some stiff competition this year. Eli Rogers is back and healthy. He’s shown in the past that he can be a starting slot receiver, and will be working hard to unseat Switzer in camp. Johnny Holton joins the team from the Raiders, and played more of a vertical slot role with them last year, meaning, he was very successful running deep routes from the slot. Holton could also be targeted for the Z, but time will tell where they place him. I also feel both Diontaes could be position flexible and play the slot if needed as well.

Z) The Steelers had terrible production from the Z last year. Justin Hunter and James Washington combined for 238 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers will need more production from the Z to compete this year. Donte Moncrief was brought in to compete for a starting role, and the Z gives him the best chance. To me, he may be the most position flexible WR on the roster next to JuJu, so I could see him slide to X and bump JuJu inside on some plays, but first we’ll have to see how the roster shakes out before dreaming about mismatches. Tevin Jones and Trey Griffey are back again after spending the year on the practice squad. We’ll see if they’ve learned enough to move up the depth chart this training camp.

For the past 3 seasons, the Steelers have kept 6 WR’s, two from each subcategory. This year should be no different. At this time, if I had to select the receivers to make the final roster, I would list them as such, but we have a lot of time before September to finalize the roster. Best of luck to all of the WR’s in camp. I’ll be watching these match-ups closely:

X: JuJu, Diontae Johnson
Y: Switzer, Eli Rogers
Z: Moncrief, Washington

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!


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