The Pittsburgh Steelers still have plans to add to their wide receiver group before the 2022 season, whether that’s through free agency the draft, or a combination of the two, head coach Mike Tomlin said at the NFL annual meetings on Sunday.
The Steelers have lost three of their five wide receivers from the 2021 season to free agency as Juju Smith-Schuster (Kansas City Chiefs), James Washington (Dallas Cowboys) and Ray-Ray McCloud (San Francisco 49ers) have all found new teams.
They did add return-man Gunner Olszewski from the New England Patriots, but he only has nine career receptions in three seasons under his belt as a wide receiver.
They do have their top two wide receivers from a year ago returning in Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, but beyond that their wide receiver position group is limited to players from their practice squad including Anthony Miller, Cody White, Steven Sims and Rico Bussey. Add in Olszewski and that’s the current seven wide receivers signed to a contract with the Steelers.
But the group is still lacking when it comes to overall talent and NFL experience.
“Still very much in development,” head coach Mike Tomlin said to Missi Matthews of Steelers.com when asked about what the teams plans to do at the position.
It’s clear that the team will need to add, at least, one more wide receiver. Tomlin mentioned both free agency and the draft as possibilities.
“We’ll continue to work free agency,” said Tomlin. “We’re preparing for the draft. Obviously we have some shoes to fill in that room. I’m confident we’re going to be capable of doing that. I like the talent pool, particularly in the draft. We’ve been studying that in recent weeks and I feel strongly about our ability to round that out.”
The one position that Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have never seemed to have an issue at drafting is the wide receiver position. Both Johnson and Claypool were Steelers’ draft picks as well as Smith-Schuster and Washington. All four were drafted within the first 100 picks in each of the last four drafts. Colbert has selected over 20 wide receivers since taking over as general manager, with many of them having solid starts to their careers in the black and gold.
In the draft, the team could use their first round pick on a wide receiver. Under Colbert, they have drafted only two wide receivers in the first round to mixed results. Santonio Holmes (first round – 2006) was the Super Bowl 43 MVP while Troy Edwards (first round – 2000) only started in seven games across three seasons in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers have had much more success drafting wide receivers in later rounds, all the way to the sixth, where they took Antonio Brown.
Although it isn’t the route the organization usually takes towards adding wide receivers, if the Steelers were to sign a free agent there are several interesting players still on the market. Former Indianapolis Colts four-time pro bowler T.Y. Hilton remains available as does former first-round pick Sammy Watkins. Speaking of Brown, he is also available, though it’s safe to assume that there’s essentially no chance of a reunion with the superstar in Pittsburgh given the way things ended.
The Steelers still do need to add another receiver and while free agency is certainly possible, it’s likely to be through the draft.