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Steelers position-by-position review: wide receivers

February 19, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is part 5 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.

Today we will be looking at the Steelers’ wide receivers.

The wide receivers emerged as arguably the Steelers’ greatest strength in 2011.  The Steelers have always been known for having great linebackers, but the current crop of wide receivers may actually outshine the linebackers.  In fact, they may be the most talented group of wide receivers in the NFL.

What other team can boast two 1,000 yard receivers, a future Hall-of-Famer, another young wide receiver who has the potential to be a 1,000 yard receiver, and a veteran receiver who would start on some NFL teams?  That’s exactly what the Steelers have on their wide receiving corps.

Let’s take a look at them individually, starting with…….

Mike Wallace

Going into the year, we knew that Mike Wallace was going to have a great season.  He had already established himself as one of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL, and he was building great chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger.  By the end of the 2010 season, Wallace had already become Big Ben’s favorite target.

Wallace had another 1,000 yard season in 2011, and he is a player who should play a significant role in the Steelers’ future.  The only problem is that Wallace is a restricted free agent this season.  Because of his incredible speed, Wallace will draw a lot of attention as a free agent.  The Steelers have said that signing him to a long-term contract is one of their highest priorities.  However, doing so is going to be expensive, and the Steelers are already over the salary cap.

The Steelers could slap the franchise tag on Wallace, but that will cost them almost $14 million.  So that’s not a very appealing option.  So the team has to hope that they can get even more veteran players to restructure their contracts.  LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons have already restructured theirs.  But the team will need to find far more money than that.

Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown came into training camp as the #4 receiver on the depth chart.  Hines Ward and Mike Wallace were established veteran starters, and Emmanuel Sanders had performed better than him during the previous season and was #3 on the depth chart.  But injuries among the wide receivers made Antonio Brown the primary wide receiver during the preseason.

By mid-season, Brown had supplanted Mike Wallace as Big Ben’s favorite target.  In fact, for long stretches it seemed like Roethlisberger had forgotten that Mike Wallace was even on the team.  That speaks volumes about how much talent Brown has.

WR Antonio Brown

Brown is probably the Steelers’ most talented receiver when it comes to gaining yards after the catch.  It’s those running skills that also made Brown a Pro Bowl kick returner.

Did I mention that Brown’s teammates voted him the team’s MVP?  Pretty impressive for a young guy.  I think this kid has a future with the team.

Hines Ward

Hines Ward is clearly one of the all-time Pittsburgh Steelers.  He holds just about every receiving record, and he’s basically been the face of the franchise since Jerome  Bettis retired.  Ward’s place is Steelers lore is assured.

However, Ward is no longer the most talented receiver on the Steelers’ roster.  After a brilliant career 14 year career, Ward will be 36 years old during the 2012 season.  By NFL standards, that’s ancient.  Moreover, Ward ended the 2011 season as the #5 wide receiver on the depth chart.  Even Jericho Cotchery had surpassed Ward.

Ward’s current contract pays him too much money to be a #5 wide receiver.  Moreover, a #5 wide receiver would have to play special teams, and it would be insulting to Ward to ask him to do that.

Ward has said that he wants to play another season for the Steelers, and that he’s willing to play for the league minimum for veterans.  But frankly, I don’t want to see Ward do that.  I love and respect Hines too much to see him sitting the bench behind younger, faster, wide receivers.

Emmanuel Sanders

2011 was basically a lost season for Emmanuel Sanders.  He struggled with injuries, and was only a shadow of the player that we saw in 2010.  Unlike Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, Sanders isn’t a speedster.  He’s more quick than fast.  He specializes on finding gaps in the defense.  That makes him an ideal slot receiver.

Sanders’ future is going to depend largely on how successful he can be at remaining healthy.  But if he can put the foot injuries behind him, then he will be a part of one of the most dynamic receiving trios in Steelers history.

Jericho Cotchery

Cotchery ended the 2011 season as the #4 wide receiver on the Steelers’ depth chart.  Cotchery is an unrestricted free agent, and I would assume that he’d like to be a starter.  That’s just not going to happen with the Steelers.

I really liked what I saw from Cotchery last year.  He didn’t really get much playing time until the second half of the season.  But once he did, he showed that he could be a reliable target for Big Ben.

I’d love to see Cotchery return to the Steelers in 2012.  However, I doubt that’s going to happen.

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8 Comments to “Steelers position-by-position review: wide receivers”

  1. The WRs are the strongest unit on the team. Hopefully, Wallace doesn’t sign anywhere else. The Steelers would only be able to put a 1st round tender on him, and certain WR-needy teams would probably be more than happy to give that up for a guy with that kind of speed. The Steelers should be cutting some more old weight (Kemoeatu, Hampton, etc.), and soon, as to get Wallace’s contract done.

  2. I would like to see Ward come back for 1 more year basically because of what you said about everyone else. I see Cotchery leaving for a better position because he would only be the #4 here and Sanders has had injury issues.

    If any of the top 3 get injured and Cothery and Ward are gone, who becomes our #3 receiver? As we all know, Pittsburgh doesn’t have cap room to sign anyone significant. So it would be either a rookie or B-level free agent who doesn’t know the offense.

    Hence, I’m fine with Hines coming back for one more year and drafting a mid round rookie for the #5 slot.

  3. My concern about Wallace is he seems to disappear late in the year. But I still would VERY much like to see him back. I’m not sure if he’s worth a franchise tag at 9M (?).

    I think they should keep Ward. Unless he has nothing left (in which case they should have cut him already) he will be better than anyone else coming in via free agency. It’s hard to crack into the top 3. Cochery found that out last season.

    Now if Wallace gets away, then it opens up a bit more. And by then Cochery will likely be gone. Which means they still probably need Ward. All this assumes a contract renegotiation.

  4. I think we need to keep ward and wallace bc they r the heart and soul of our offence plus ward has always give his heart and soul for the steelers and the steelers would not be the same without him

  5. Dan Reisner says:

    I think it is highly unlikely that the Steelers will lose Wallace or keep Ward. Wally did fade at the end of the season and had some costly drops but also had less opportunities. Still, he demands attention from the defense, can score on any touch, stretches the field more than anyone in the game and has potential for further growth. Hines was perhaps the best all-around receiver in Steelers history, although he lacked the Swann and Stalworth’s talent and ability to get open deep. Now, however, his time has come to an end. Nearly all of the catches he made at the end to get to 1000 were more for reaching that milestone than winning games. Unfortunately, we will also lose Cotch which means there is room for more receivers on the roster and maybe more opportunity for Heath to catch balls next year with a new OC.

  6. I truly hope that the Steelers don’t lose Mike Wallace. But there is a very real possibility that it could happen. Some team could offer Wallace a ridiculous amount of money that the Steelers just don’t have the cap room to match. Frankly, that would be a smart strategy. The team would have to give up a 1st round draft pick, but does any team think that they can get a receiver in the 1st round who is going to be a Pro Bowl caliber receiver and one of the fastest guys in the NFL? Heck, I could see New England doing that deal. I think Brady would love to toss it to Wallace, and Bellicheat would love to stick it to the Steelers. Plus, the Patriots always seem to have 10 picks per round anyway, so they can afford to lose one of their first round picks.

    I saw a report on NFL Network where they labeled Mike Wallace as the free agent who is most likely to be stolen by another team.

  7. The Patriors (#31), Ravens (#29) and Bengals (#21) all have the CAP room and low first round pick to do it. If all they do is offer the 1st round restricted tender I see someone doing it.

  8. Dan Reisner says:

    It is rare to lose a high quality restricted free agent because of the likely first round draft compensation. I don’t think the Steelers will fail to match an offer but as good as Wallace is, losing him would not be the end of the world. It would reduce the pressure on our salary cap and give us a future first round draft pick which we would not waste on a receiver. Wallace is terrific but I’m not convinced he is better than Brown and he’s useless in the red zone where we need the most improvement. I’m more worried about Sanders’ health than the risk of losing Wallace.


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