This is Part 9 of our Steelers position review series. If you haven’t read Part 1 – 8, please click the links below.
I actually thought that I had finished this series. Then one of my readers (thanks Dawson) reminded me that I forgot to review the wide receivers. I’m not quite sure how I did that (no age jokes, please), but I did. So here is my review of the Steelers’ wide receivers.
After the linebacker position, wide receiver may be the strongest position on the team. Not only do the Steelers have a good group of receivers, but most of them are young.
Hines Ward will enter his 14th year in the league in 2011. Last year was Ward’s worst season since 2000. However, I’m not the least bit worried about him. Frankly, I’m much more worried about whether Ward is going to win on Dancing With The Stars than I am about whether he’s going to be ready to play next season. When the season starts (and nobody knows when that will actually be), Hines will be ready to play. You can count on it.
2010 was Mike Wallace’s breakout season. He surpassed Hines Ward and became Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to receiver. Wallace led the team in both receptions and receiving yards. In fact, among receivers with 25 catches or more, only the Philadelphia Eagles’ DeSean Jackson averaged more yards per catch than Wallace.
I expect Wallace to have an even better season next year. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t likely to miss 25% of the regular season like he did in 2010. That bodes well for Wallace. Also, now that he’s officially become the team’s top receiver, I expect Wallace to be get more opportunities than he did in 2010.
Wallace only had 60 regular season receptions in 2010. That’s far fewer than other receivers who had similar yardage. Houston’s Andre Johnson had 86 catches, but ended up with fewer yards than Wallace. Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald had 90 catches , but also ended up with fewer yards than Wallace. And Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne had 111 catches, but only ended up with 98 more yards than Wallace. Can you imagine how many yards Wallace would have if he had 80-100 catches?
Suffice it to say that Mike Wallace is going to be the Steelers top receiver for the foreseeable future.
Antwaan Randle El was brought back in 2010 to help fill the void left by Santonio Holmes’ departure. Unfortunately, he didn’t do that. In fact, by the mid-point in the season, Randle El had been surpassed by rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown on the depth chart. By the end of the season, Sanders had actually accumulated more catches and yards than Randle El.
Randle El is 31 years old, and his best days are behind him. I seriously doubt that he’ll be able to make the team next year.
Emmanuel Sanders, on the other hand, will definitely make the team. I hate to say “I told you so”, but I said early in training camp that this kid was good, and that he was going to make the team. In fact, I think he’s the heir apparent to Hines Ward.
Unlike Mike Wallace, who is clearly a speed guy, Sanders excels in making the short and intermediate catches that Hines Ward has traditionally made. I have little doubt that Sanders will enter 2011 as the Steelers unquestioned #3 receiver.
While I believe that Sanders will be the Steelers’ #3 wide receiver next year, fellow sophomore Antonio Brown isn’t just going to hand the position to him. Like Sanders. Brown stepped in and made his presence felt during his rookie season.
I hate to say “I told you so” (okay, actually I love saying that), but many of you thought I was crazy back in training camp when I predicted that BOTH Brown and Sanders were going to make the roster. But they both did. And I expect to see even more from them in 2011.
Arnaz Battle is a special teams player. While he’s officially listed as a wide receiver, we all know that he’s really not. No need to discuss him further.
Tyler Grisham is a gritty young player who has spent the past two years on the Steelers practice squad. I was actually the first blogger or reporter to write about Grisham at Steelers training camp in 2009. I really liked the kid, and I accurately predicted that the Steelers would keep him on the practice squad. Unfortunately, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are just better receivers than Grisham. With their emergence, I believe that Grisham’s days with the Steelers are numbered.
Limas Sweed (yes, him!) will be back with the team next year. I know that many fans have completely given up on Sweed. And frankly, I don’t blame them. But I think fans have to give him another chance.
I know that in the past Sweed has been a dropped pass waiting to happen. But I still have hopes for this kid. He’s still the tallest wide receiver the Steelers have, and he’s still fast. Only Mike Wallace is faster than him among the Steelers’ receivers. So just imagine what would happen if he came back healthy, and somehow rediscovered his confidence. There wouldn’t be a defense in the NFL that could stop Ward, Wallace, Sanders, Brown, and Sweed.
Even if Limas Sweed doesn’t develop into the player that I hope he’ll be, I still believe that the Steelers’ wide receiving corps will be a strong unit in 2011. They should easily be able to sign a free agent to fill their final roster spot if Sweed can’t hold onto it.
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