Training camp is right around the corner, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will carry 91 men into camp this year. How do you know who to watch? What position battles are key? Who are we looking to keep an eye on? Over the next couple of weeks, we will break down some of the most hotly-contested position battles for you to know where to focus. These articles will contain no predictions and no sort of outcome, just a simple what to look for. Consider this your guide to camp. Let’s have some fun!
There are a lot of numbers competing at the wide receiver position for 2019, so we will break this down into three categories: returning players, new additions, and depth. We begin with our returning stars.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is entering his third season as the number one receiver for the first time in his career. You’ll get varying reports on how he will perform with additional responsibilities added to his repertoire in 2019, depending on who you ask. Steelers Nation expects another 100+ reception and 1,200+ yard season from the budding superstar. You ask the media, and he will succumb to the pressure of being number one and not perform so well. The reality likely falls somewhere in the middle.
Smith-Schuster is putting in the work, as evidenced by him out-doing his own 40 yard dash time recently by running a 4.5 flat (mind you he ran it cold without warming up and likely jet-lagged, just getting off his flight). He also physically looks bigger and stronger. The physical tools are there, what isn’t being talked about is his leadership.
He has become a lot more vocal, and it will be nice to see him take some of the young guys under his wing this summer and help them transition to the NFL.
Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers are likely battling for the top slot position this summer. Rogers is another year removed from his ACL tear and has Ben Roethlisberger's trust, though Switzer offers a little more value in YAC ability and as a return man. We have likely seen Rogers’ ceiling though, so if Switzer can progress after a full offseason within the same time period for the first time, it’s possible he takes that roster spot.
The final player returning this season is James Washington. Early seasons woes kept him off the field last season, mostly stemming from not having a good rapport with Roethlisberger and a lack of confidence. Later in the season he came on and made some nice contested plays and proved to be a deep threat. He comes into year two in better condition (as Tomlin expects of all second-year athletes), and is looking to seize the number two receiver spot. Can he play with enough confidence and tenacity to hold off Donte Moncrief through camp, though?
That brings us to the next set of players, the additions.
Moncrief is an athletic receiver with great size and is gunning for the second outside receiver spot with Washington. He’s had some good numbers in seasons past, but has lacked steady quarterback play throughout his career. He has developed a good rapport with Roethlisberger so far this offseason, through mini-camp and OTA’s, which bodes well for him. Mainly, he'll need to keep Ben’s trust and be more than just a deep threat in the Steelers offense. The key to that will be in his route running.
Diontae Johnson, the 66th overall pick in the 2019 draft is in play to see some action as well. Known mostly for his route-running and footwork, can his hands and play speed match?
And then there is Johnny Holton. A lightning fast receiver from Oakland, he could seize the DHB-role as a deep threat. There are however many questions surrounding him. His route-running, hands, and footwork all could use improvement if he wants to stick on the roster.
When it comes to depth, Diontae Spencer is the name to watch. Undersized at 5’9, 161lbs, he has blazing speed and excels in the return game. He put up 81 receptions for 1,007 yards and 7 touchdowns for Ottawa in the CFL last season, and if he can translate that to the NFL, along with his return ability, he could push Eli Rogers off of the roster (assuming they are comfortable with Switzer in the slot).
Tevin Jones and Trey Griffey both have a year in the system and have been said to have made improvements. With the numbers ahead of both players it’s not likely either will make the roster, but they could be practice squad players again this season. Jones is a Sparq athlete that averaged 30 yards per reception with two touchdowns last preseason, but struggled enough with drops that he didn’t make the roster.
The field is set, and it’ll be a fun battle to see how the pecking order pans out in camp. Will the Steelers keep 6 receivers again or only 5?
Who are you most excited to see? Tell us in the comment section!