For over a decade, the Pittsburgh Steelers have prided themselves on being one of the best organizations at drafting and developing wide receivers. During this time, they had multiple receivers grow into Pro-Bowl or even All-Pro caliber players, such as Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Juju Smith-Schuster.
In 2021, the Steelers fielded one of their most talented crops of receivers. At the top of this list was third-year receiver Diontae Johnson, who led the team this season in receptions and receiving yards. Next to him were second-year receiver Chase Claypool and third-year receiver James Washington. To round out the group is veteran Juju Smith-Schuster, who is widely regarded as the group's leader.
In years past, this unit was perceived as the strength of the team, yet the last few seasons have exposed a growing trend of drops and inconsistent productivity. This past season, no receiver on the roster with 40 or more targets managed to register a catch percentage higher than 63%.
In Sunday night's playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Steelers receivers combined for just 17 receptions and 142 receiving yards. To put this into perspective, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce produced 108 receiving yards on just 8 receptions.
More concerning was the number of drops, which inevitably affected the team's ability to sustain any offensive drives in the first half. Johnson himself accounted for two drops on ten targets, both of them during crucial moments in the game. Claypool managed only three receptions on seven targets and failed to use his size as an advantage in one-on-one situations. Washington proved to be their most reliable receiver on this night, as he accounted for two receptions, one of them resulting in a touchdown, while leading all pass catchers with 37 receiving yards. Considering how underutilized he was this season and
rumors of trade request early in the season, last night may have been his last in a Steelers uniform.
Without a doubt, they are a talented group; the real question is how dependable they are.
With Ben Roethlisberger all but officially retired, the importance of their productivity grows exponentially. Based on what they showed this past season, this is a unit that is due for changes. Whether it is additions through this year's NFL Draft or free agency, the Steelers need to do everything possible to create a unit capable of taking this team to the next level.