Donte Moncrief was not a splash signing by any nature. It did not make waves across the league, but it does come off as a typical Pittsburgh Steelers move. Considering his status around the league, the Steelers were able to buy low when a player did not have much value.
However, the low risk proposition presents a lot of potential untapped talent.
Donte Moncrief has upside
Donte Moncrief walked onto campus at Ole Miss and immediately led the team in receiving. Whether it’s receptions, yards, touchdowns, or yards after the catch Moncrief led the way.
Ole Miss did not have a talented roster, but it was impressive to walk onto an SEC campus at age 18 and carry his team. Being able to dominate a high share of targets at a younger age than your peers in college has proven to correlate to success in the NFL. It also appears to be something the Steelers pay attention to, as Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Markus Wheaton, and JuJu Smith-Schuster all broke out as their teams leading receiver before the age of 20.
In his sophomore season, he posted 10 touchdowns and completed back to back 900-yard seasons. He accomplished this all by the age of 20.
Donte Moncrief went to the combine and tested extremely well.
As you can see, compared to his peers combine statistics he is not only much taller than an average NFL player, he is heavier, longer and much more explosive. Combining the fact that he had success against SEC competition at a young age, and that he is tall, fast and explosive compares him favorably to elite level athletes. PlayerProfiler.com compared his weight adjusted combine numbers and production data to Andre Johnson.
Of course, Andre Johnson is going to be a Hall of Famer. The difference between the two is that Johnson is a unique route runner who could create separation in the short, middle and intermediate areas of the field. Donte Moncrief, for the most part, was just a deep threat. A successful deep threat, but a one-trick player nonetheless. Despite being drafted in the third round, NFL.com gave him a late first-early second round grade.
Donte Moncrief was drafted to a team that had T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, and a 26-year old Hakeem Hicks. He was not able to see the field much as a third-round rookie who was unrefined as a route runner.
In his second season, he once again broke out at a young age to the tune of 64 receptions for 733 yards and six touchdowns. To put that into perspective in Martavis Bryant’s second season in the NFL he caught 50 passes for 765 yards and six touchdowns. Bryant had a better yards per catch total, but had a 54% completion rate compared to 61% when Luck targeted Moncrief. The big difference is Moncrief was two years younger than Martavis Bryant in their second seasons.
The Colts found an explosive threat who could put the ball into the end zone. Moncrief broke out in his second season in similar fashion to his blow up a sophomore campaign that featured six touchdowns.
Unfortunately, a shoulder injury ended his 2016 season in week nine after eclipsing his career high touchdown total in just seven games played. Extrapolated out, Moncrief was in line for 60 receptions, for 614 yards and 14 touchdowns. The touchdowns are insane, but Moncrief was on track for another strong season.
Little did he know that the next two years of his career were going to go down a much different trajectory.
Coming back from shoulder surgery he was not teamed up with Andrew Luck for year three, but instead saw a season of Jacoby Brissett. From Brissett came Blake Bortles. Still, while it was quiet thanks to the issues in Jacksonville, he did lead the Jaguars in yards per reception in 2018.
His 48 receptions for 668 yards and three touchdowns from Blake Bortles was better than 50 receptions for 603 yards and three touchdowns that Martavis Bryant contributed in 2017 during his last season with Ben Roethlisberger.
Setting the bar high?
This is going to look like cherry-picking stats, but when you think of Moncrief you have to think of not only being tall but heavy, weighing over 220 pounds. There are not many players with his weight to be as explosive and make plays down the field. Most people at his size cannot move that way. He also has production. While it has not been consistent, he is only 25 and has big seasons at Ole Miss and in the NFL.
Most NFL players experience their prime from age 25-30, so Moncrief is just now entering the peak years of his career.
Let’s look at big wide receiver who produced at a young age.
The only wide receivers to stand over 6’1″, 220 pounds with more receptions and more yards per reception than him by their age 25 season are Alshon Jeffrey, Michael Crabtree, Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones, and Larry Fitzgerald. That list will include JuJu Smith-Schuster at the rate he is going.
Here is a list of every receiver with those measurements to have his type of NFL success by age 25.
There are not many players with his skill set, and most of them wind up being hits in the NFL.
Moncrief has been bordering on the becoming a big hit as well. His second season was on the trajectory of a star wide receiver, but an injury, followed by quarterback issues turned him into a buy-low candidate for the Steelers.
This is exactly the type of calculated risk that you have to take when it comes to replacing a wide receiver who has shown to be as potent as Antonio Brown. The Steelers identified a player ready to enter his prime with the odds of stats and measurements on his side.