Steelers on the hot seat this season? Ryan Switzer

The Oxford Dictionary describes “hot seat” as the following: the position of a person who carries full responsibility for something, including facing criticism or being answerable for decisions or actions. In this ongoing series our contributors will select a current member of the Steelers organization and ask the simple question: are they on the hot seat in 2020?

Usually a player ends up on the “hot seat” discussion by virtue of being someone who could be gone this year or next: that is, they are in a contract year or their roster spot is in jeopardy.

Ryan Switzer, however, is not only on the proverbial hot seat due to either of those circumstances: it’s actually both!

Well, and some comments he made in the past week that may have put a target on his back too…

In an Instagram Live video, via Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Switzer made a lofty claim:

“I believe I will be one of the best slot receivers in the NFL… I have no doubt I’ll be up there and I’ll be talked about like Edelman is, like Welker was, like Jamison Crowder, Cole Beasley.”

Those are some lofty words for a player who hasn’t cemented themselves as a full-time starter with their current team and likely sits on a roster bubble very similar to the way they came in a couple of seasons ago.

When the Steelers pulled the trigger in a trade for Switzer back in 2018, most of us here at Steel City Underground were elated. He was a receiver we watched closely during the draft process in which we felt was underutilized. Drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round, he spent a season in Dallas before being traded to the Oakland Raiders following an unproductive rookie season (6 catches, 41 yards, no touchdowns).

Switzer would never play a down for the Raiders, who shipped him over to the Steelers after acquiring him from the Cowboys themselves. We all felt it was a good acquisition by the Steelers, but also wondered how it might impact Eli Rogers, who had already filled a slot receiver and special teams role in Pittsburgh.

Rogers would return in 2018 but lose his spot to Switzer in 2019 after only playing three games following injury rehab and a one-game suspension.

Like Rogers, Switzer would be counted on to help upgrade kick and punt returns, with neither really making much of an uptick in that department over their tenure in the Steel City. (The hope was, at times, to relieve WR Antonio Brown of punt return duties as to not risk the star offensive player getting injured.)

Fast forward to 2020 and Switzer finds himself in another roster battle.

In the same receiver room are incumbents JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson; the latter two of who made strides and the former, which is a year removed from a Pro Bowl season. The Steelers also added Chase Claypool with their top pick in this year’s draft (second round), who figures to be almost a tight end-style receiver due to his size and physicality.

That’s four receivers not including Swizter, who would make five on a team who traditionally keeps five or six total.

Deon Cain, added late last season from the Colts practice squad, is another big, fast receiver with whom Switzer may have to peer over his shoulder at competing with for a spot. However, it’s the loss of his special teams role, due to missing seven games in 2019, that would greatly jeopardize Ryan’s roster spot. Diontae Johnson took the reigns of punt return duties and never looked back: something that was anticipated given the wide receiver’s college pedigree at being a do-it-all type player.

Johnson also plays in the slot, but the Steelers move their receivers around, so he’s not “only” a slot receiver: JuJu also operates from the same options.

Switzer, on the other hand, is strictly a slot receiver who, at best, figured to be the Steelers fourth option off of the bench.

Making a statement about being in the same conversation as Welker (who led the NFL in receiving three times) or Edelman (a Super Bowl MVP) is quite the stretch. First, Switzer has to stay healthy and find snaps to even come close to either former Patriots pass catchers, who each boast multiple seasons with over 100 receptions and/or 1,000 receiving yards.

That’s what definitely put a target on Switzer’s back.

A lack of preseason games to showcase his talent against other teams is a further detriment to Switzer’s bid to remain on the team, even if I believe he will do so for his final year of his four-year rookie deal (mainly because of expanded rosters in the wake of a new CBA and COVID-19 concessions made for this season).

However, that doesn’t remove Switzer from a hot seat position.

Last season he made a friendly bet with Pittsburgh media personality Mark Madden:

Switzer was betting on himself, but he probably wasn’t betting on Ben Roethlisberger being lost in Week 2 to a season-ending injury, nor landing on Injured Reserve himself.

Of course, that didn’t stop Madden from gloating about his “victory” and ultimately being proven “correct”.

Hopefully for Ryan the 2020 season turns out as a better one as he heads into a contract year.

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