Friday, April 19, 2013

The Steelers Options For Wide Receivers Are Wide Open

Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have Emmanuel Sanders and Steve McLendon signed to contracts (see TIDBITS for McLendon's contract and his impact), they've secured depth at both the wide receiver and defensive line positions, but the move also likely impacted the team’s draft plans.

Without Sanders, the Steelers would have been bereft at wideout with only Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress, a lineup that wouldn't scare anyone. So the drafting of a wide receiver early is essential.

With Sanders, the Steelers are a better team, yes. Production, however, must now increase. Per Pro Football Focus, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's passer rating when throwing at Sanders in 2012 was just 79.6, below Brown, Mike Wallace and Cotchery. A season of 60 receptions, 800 yards and four touchdowns isn't setting the bar too high.

The other wide receivers currently listed on the roster are David Gilreath, Kashif Moore, Derek Moye and Bert Reed. But those names aren't going to scare anyone, either. As it stands, Brown is the team's No. 1, Sanders would be the No. 2 and Cotchery would be the No. 3 receiver. Even with Burress as your No. 4, it still leaves room for the drafting of one or possibly even two WRs to push, challenge and maybe surprise.

There are a baker's dozen or so who would fit what the Steelers are looking to do in their offense. Either a multi-threat WR/KR guy, or a red zone threat who can also take the top off of the defense. We list 10 below whom we feel are some of the Steelers' best options and ones who could have an impact in their first season:

(ASIDE: We've written ad nauseum about the West Virginia product, the four-year starter, the "they call me Mr. Austin in Oklahoma" wide receiver known as Tavon Austin, so we won't tarry here. We'll simply provide a link to a previous piece we wrote on him that contains a breakdown of "the Awesome one." - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/03/do-recent-pro-day-visits-indicate-who.html)

KEENAN ALLEN -
Ignore his Pro Day times, he was still nursing a PCL injury that affected his performance. Per Allen himself via CBSSports.com, he was "only about 85% back." He's a true football player who goes and gets the ball with conviction. Also per NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock, who timed Allen at 4.71 and 4.75, Allen shouldn't be judged on that and the talk of safeties repeatedly running him down from behind.

"Let me preface the whole 40-yard conversation with this," Mayock told NFL Network's "Path to the Draft." "Three months ago, I said -- if you watch this kid on tape -- if you like him, he's Anquan Boldin. If you don't like him, he's speed-deficient. So I don't really care what he runs in the 40. On tape, to me, he's a 4.55 guy all day long." - http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1737096

ROBERT WOODS -
As If It Ain't Steel said before of Woods, "he definitely has his upside, but there are also concerns."

Woods underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle in December 2011, though he looked mostly healthy throughout the 2012 season, but his long-term stability will still be under scrutiny if there is any issue with his ankles. Despite this, he's still climbing the draft boards.

He is 6'1" and 185 lbs. with sub 4.4 speed, runs a 21.07 in the 200 meters and 46.02 in the 400 meters and has true separation ability. He would be a very good replacement for Mike Wallace in that he has similar scoring-threat speed, but is a better route runner and has slightly better hands. He tends to rely on his speed a little too much in order to make plays, but, well, that didn't exactly impede Wallace, did it? - http://youtu.be/IVMbjxKZyK8



DEANDRE HOPKINS -
Though he may currently be on Hotel.com's most wanted list, he's still one of the best wideouts at the top of the draft.

Hopkins is so creative in how he's able to deceive defensive backs with head fakes, then he combines his solid route-running ability with his length, fluidity, quickness and flexibility to avoid corners in zone or to gain separation. "Nuuuk" is smooth. - http://youtu.be/13cTixvMEos

JUSTIN HUNTER -
Tall and fluid, Hunter locates the ball well and makes sure he gets it. He completely believes every ball is should be his. He has big, strong hands and knows how to catch the ball away from his body. At the Tennessee Pro Day, Hunter measured in at an eyelash under 6'4", weighed 200 pounds and had a very impressive 40.5" vertical jump. - http://tinyurl.com/cz6hhct

MARKUS WHEATON -
At 6-0, 182 pounds, Wheaton isn’t the biggest receiver in the draft class, but he’s a heck of a playmaker. He’s been compared to Antonio Brown for his ability to break plays open and to run the ball on reverses. Or as CBSSports.com simply puts it, "he's a big play waiting to happen." - http://tinyurl.com/ctz3fjf

MARCUS GOODWIN -
Fast. Goodwin only had 33 touches on offense all season for Texas, including 13 carries, but he made those touches count. In spades. There were a couple of games in particular where this human pinball machine was directly responsible for the TILT of his opponents.

Goodwin, a 10.4 100-meter speedster and Olympic long jumper, had five total touches for 132 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State, and another four touches for 182 yards and two touchdowns against Ole Miss. Included in those stats were TD runs of 64 and 69 yards respectively. - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je7sPrc4RnQ

RYAN SWOPE -
Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider said of him that he's "a steal" if he drops below the 3rd round and that he is "closer to HWard {with a} large sac." (Brackets ours) He's 6'0", 204 lbs., is tough, is a very good blocker and simply loves playing the game. And, also like Ward, he's fearless over the middle and he always gets up smiling. - http://youtu.be/howDumVCmfU

STEDMAN BAILEY -
A three-year starter, Bailey caught 114 passes for 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012. Yet, despite his college success, despite better numbers than teammate Tavon Austin and despite being clocked at 4.48 and 4.46 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, Bailey is still projected as a third rounder. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/04/making-case-for-tavon-austin-and.html

Make no mistake, Bailey is the real deal. Get out the game film and watch him consistently get open. He opens up shop 10-to-20 yards down the field and works his craft against all defensive looks. Bailey is a good and quick route runner who knows how to get himself open. He has great body control and goes and gets the majority of the balls thrown his way. And when he doesn't get it, he knows how to play the defender role. - http://tinyurl.com/bpnda5o

If Steady B is still available at pick No. 79, his blue and gold could turn to Black and Gold.

As a way of an honorable mention, Tavarres King of Georgia and Josh Boyce of TCU have been to the the Steelers South Side facilities on pre-draft visits. King is a fluid WR with very good hands and Boyce has good speed and is a natural playmaker.

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TIDBITS: Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon signed a 3-year $7.25M deal with a $1.67M signing bonus. Per Ian Rapoport, the Steelers had $743K cap room before McLendon deal. But his RFA counted $1.323M. Now, he'll count about $1.4M with his new deal (leaving the Steelers with approximately $600,000 in Salary Cap space).

His signing was fortuitous also. Without McLendon, the trio of Alameda Ta'amu, Al Woods and Hebron Fangupo represent a not ready for primetime group at nose tackle, with the only one starter capable being Ta'amu. Drafting a defensive tackle/end could certainly still figure in to the plan, but even that player would need at least a year of grooming. So the signing was not only fortuitous, but prodigious.

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The Steelers schedule is out: http://tinyurl.com/czuo25k


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Isaac Redman signs tender to remain with Steelers http://tinyurl.com/cjgxawm