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State of the WR Corps

Consider this for a moment – Mike Wallace, as he enters only his second year as pro as a late third round pick in 2009 will be starting alongside future Hall of Fame receiver Hines Ward in 2010. Not only that but even if he’s considered #2 on the Steelers depth chart by the team, he will no doubt be considered the #1 WR by most opposing defenses this year. Regardless of how you think the Steelers handled the Santonio Holmes situation, the fact is he wouldn’t be a Steeler past the 2010 so let’s just leave him out of this discussion. Wallace had a great rookie season and actually led all WR’s in yards per catch at 19.4 yards. As the #3 receiver last year he was almost always matched up against the opposing teams nickle corner back, this year he’ll be covered by starting corner backs and defenses will be definitely be focusing more on him. There’s obviously a big difference in going from a #3 to a #1 or 2 receiver in one year, the expectations and responsibilities go up a few notches.

I expect  Wallace to have long-term success in his new role but don’t be surprised if he struggles at times as the spotlight is now on him in Bruce Arian’s vertical passing attack. It’ll definitely be interesting to watch as he consistently goes up against starting corner backs. After Wallace things get a little murkier going into the future at the wide receiver position on this team. Hines Ward will probably retire after this year or next. Antwaan Randel El, at the age of 31,  was clearly re-signed as a stopgap and for depth, same goes for Arnaz Battle, who is 30. Neither player, even in their prime, were true #1 or 2 WR’s. There is a big gap in age and experience between Ward, Battle and Randel El and the rest of the receivers on the team. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are both rookies drafted in the 3rd and 6th rounds, respectively. Both receivers have set big expectations for themselves and have had good camps so far. Time will tell how far these two can go, the obvious question is, can they break into the starting lineup? If neither can do that in the next couple years, the Steelers will likely have another gap to fill with Ward likely retiring. It’s still extremely early to make an assessment on Sanders and Brown (both under 6 feet and known more for their quickness than flat out speed) both strike me as the short to intermediate type receiver. Tyler Grisham, another young receiver, also fits that mold.

Which brings up another question, if the Steelers are going to continue the vertical passing attack which has been a big part of the offense under Big Ben at QB, who is going to fill that gap if Brown or Sanders cannot become consistent deep threats? Two words – Limas Sweed. At this point you’re thinking “This guy is insane, Sweed is a bust!” Not so fast, maybe he is and maybe he isn’t. The fact is Sweed is only 1 year older than Wallace and has barely played in any actual games. He’s 6’4″, fast and arguably still the most talented receiver on the team. If Wallace struggles to get open deep consistently against starting corner backs, Sweed may be the answer at the other side. Just remember that for next year. Regardless, the future at the receiver position, outside of Mike Wallace, is still a mystery and we probably won’t get the answers this year.

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