The Steelers appear to be loaded with depth at the pass catching positions as they currently hold six tight ends and eleven wide receivers on their roster.
As the team progresses through camp and the pre-season; those numbers will dwindle and the dust will settle on who’s going to be ranked where. In the meantime; there are some very interesting battles going on for various spots amongst both units and how they play out will be determined on the field.
Tight end is always a very important position in the Todd Haley offense and the number one tight end is of course Heath Miller. Miller looks as healthy as ever and has a great opportunity to go back to the 2012 form that saw him grab over 70 balls for a career high 816 yards and eight touchdowns. Miller can do it all and is still one of the best tight ends in all of football.
The number two spot will be more interesting as it looks to be a battle between Matt Spaeth and David Paulson. Spaeth missed last season but if he can remain healthy, he should win the number two job. He’s tall, can catch the ball well and is a decent pass and run blocker. His experience gives him the edge.
That leaves David Paulson as the number three tight end which should see him play a role more as a blocking end with the occasional reception. Paulson does have talent and played in all 16 games for the black and gold last season. He certainly has an outside chance of grabbing that second spot.
The fourth and in all likelihood final tight end spot will come down to a battle between rookies Rob Blanchflower and Eric Waters and veteran Michael Palmer.
Palmer was on the team last season and has 22 career receptions but I believe he’s the first man eliminated from this list and will be part of the teams’ first round of cuts.
The two rookies will battle for that final spot and the edge will ultimately go to Blanchflower. The team drafted him in round seven this past May and I believe they look at him as a good developmental player. There is potential the team could keep Waters in that same vain but more likely that he’ll be put on the practice squad.
Like tight end, wide receiver has their clear number one guy and that’s Antonio Brown. Brown is the team’s best and most athletic receiver and will be Big Ben’s number one target.
Brown, now entering his fifth season is coming off an historic year in which he set career bests with 110 catches, 1,499 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
It would be shocking if he didn’t have a year similar to 2013 and there is certainly potential for him to go beyond last years’ performance as well. He has the ability to go across the middle, stretch the field and most certainly grab a ball in the bubble screen. He made everyone forget about Mike Wallace and he’s fast approaching Hines Ward level numbers.
The second wide receiver spot is going to be a battle between second year man Markus Wheaton, rookie Martavis Bryant and newly signed veterans Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward Bey.
All indications are the team wants the job to go to Markus Wheaton so it’s certainly his to lose. He didn’t show us anything in 2013 so he’s essentially starting fresh in 2014. Wheaton has good hands, he’s a burner and he can stretch the field but I don’t think he’s going to land the job. He seems too inconsistent and injury prone to be a second option for Roethlisberger.
My money is on rookie Martavis Bryant. He’s the tallest receiver on the team outside of Derek Moye, he’s got very good hands and it’s not as hard for rookie wide receivers to learn an offensive system. They simply need to know how to run their routes and he can do that.
Bryant reminds me of a young Plaxico Burress and it makes far more sense to have that tall, possession receiver as the number two vs. having another burner across from Antonio Brown.
Heyward Bey and Moore absolutely have the potential to grab that second spot and certainly have more experience than anyone else on the team but I don’t think they were necessarily brought in to be the second option for Big Ben but rather to lend depth to the unit as well as help lead the group of young guys.
The three through five spots will be between Wheaton, Heyward Bey and Moore and I think they may even interchange based on matchups. Wheaton and Heyward Bey are the speed guys and Moore is the possession guy so it will all be situational between these three.
From a depth chart perspective the rankings will probably shake out with Wheaton being the third guy, Moore the four and Heyward Bey the five. Each one of them will play a significant role in the offense however.
The biggest question left is whether or not the team will keep a sixth guy?
Typically based on other position needs; the team only keeps five receivers so it looks like it might be tough luck for Derek Moye, Danny Coale, Justin Brown, CJ Goodwin, Kashif Moore and Lanear Sampson.
A few of these guys may get a practice squad spot and maybe one of them will surprise everyone and steal away the fifth receiver spot from one of the vets but it seems very unlikely.
Never the less, keep your eye on Justin Brown and CJ Goodwin as they have the best chance of unseating one of the guys in front of them for that fifth job. They too are the most likely to be retained on the practice squad, if nothing else.
While both tight end and wide receiver have clear number one players, the rest of the depth chart must be played out throughout camp and into the pre-season. Jobs are won and lost in “the trenches” as Mike Tomlin says; so by the third pre-season game, we’ll know exactly how this depth chart will shake out and who’s “in” and who’s “out”.
Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association www.steelnationassociation.com- Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.