The Steelers only have four receivers under contract for the 2012 season—Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Hines Ward. However, that number could be slashed to three, should the rumors of Ward's departure turn out to be true.
If Ward does end up leaving (or even if he ends up staying, for that matter), the Steelers will likely take a wide receiver at some point in the draft. The only question is when.
Will they take a risk and shoot for one of the bigger-name guys in the early rounds? Or will they be patient and look to take a sleeper somewhere further down the line? We'll have to wait and see.
I believe the Steelers' decision to take a wide receiver is some point is almost guaranteed—not only because they are lacking at the position, but because they have a recent history of picking wide receivers from the college ranks.
Since 2000, they have picked at least one receiver per draft on all but two occasions. Some of those picks have paid off (Antwaan Randle El, Mike Wallace), while others never amounted to much (Willie Reid, Dallas Baker). It is what it is.
So, without further ado, here are seven receivers (one for each round) who the Steelers may have the opportunity to draft.
I was hesitant to put Alshon Jeffery on this list because there have been rumors floating around, one viable one from NFL Network's Mike Mayock (h/t Rotoworld), about his ability to control his weight. He currently tips the scales at around 230 pounds—which in itself isn't too much of an issue—yet if he tacks on any more poundage during the offseason, his 40 time could take a hit.
This could pose a problem, considering the fact that Jeffery is projected to run a 4.6—a relatively slow mark for a top-tier wide receiver.
But that observations could possibly be cast aside as nit-picky speculation. Jeffrey, on the whole, is an immensely talented receiver. At 6'4", 230 pounds, he's essentially a tight end with the athletic gifts of a wide receiver.
His size would certainly be an asset for the Steelers, who currently don't have a wide receiver over 6' under contract for the 2012 season. He could conceivably be used as a red zone threat and/or a dependable third down possession receiver, should the Steelers' decide to go that route. He also has the ability to stretch the field and would provide a nice complement to the speedy Mike Wallace.
Note: Of course, Justin Blackmon is far and away the most celebrated wide receiver of this year's draft class. However, he wasn't included on this list because there's an extremely slim chance that he'll fall all the way to the 24th pick.
Sanu may not last until the late second round, but if he does, the Steelers' would be wise to take this gangly receiver from Rutgers off the board.
The junior from South Brunswick, NJ is coming off of a highly productive season, snagging 115 passes for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns. College stats don't carry much weight for NFL teams, nor should they, especially in Sanu's case, since he generally faced less-than-stellar defensive backs in the Big East.
Yet they do give us a gauge for judging how productive a player was during his collegiate career. So take the numbers for what you think they're worth.
Something NFL teams do take into consideration is size and speed—and Sanu happens to have both. At 6'2", 215 pounds, he's much leaner, and therefore quicker, than Jeffery. This could make him more of an asset on shorter routes out of the slot that require nimble footwork and precise route-running.
Jones is relatively unheralded when compared to the some of the big name receivers of the 2012 draft class (Jeffery, Floyd). And while he is far from a finished product, some say that he has the potential to be a No. 1 receiver for an NFL squad sometime in the future.
Like most of the receivers on this list, Jones is big—6'4", 207 pounds, to be exact. He has the ability to line up on the outside and stretch the defense, but can also be used in the slot on short-to-medium yardage situations.
Scouts claim that he has great hands—when he uses them. Attempting the catch the ball with his chest has led to many drops, scouts say. It's certainly something he'll have to correct coming into the NFL, where the passes he'll be asked to corral will be coming at a higher velocity.
Apparently many other teams have Jones on their radar, so there's no guarantee that he'll still be around in the late third round.
Wisconsin's Nick Toon could be the most well-rounded receiver on this list.
He doesn't have game-breaking speed or a gravity-defying vertical. He's not great at any single aspect of the game. But he's very good at all of the necessary skills needed to be a successful NFL wide receiver—blocking, route-running, pass-catching, etc.
However, Toon's football pedigree would mean very little if he didn't have the physical skills to compete against NFL-level defensive backs. But he does. He's 6'2", 220, and runs a respectable 4.52 dash.
Toon, who is known for a fiery on-field persona and a vicious competitive streak, has the potential to become a Hines Ward-type of player, should the proper circumstances arise. With Ward reportedly on the way out (either this offseason or next), it would make sense for the Steelers to draft a player with a similar skill set to fill the void.
Brian Quick may be the only FCS receiver to make this list, but there's little doubt that he has enough talent to compete at the NFL level.
He was a prep basketball star in South Carolina before deciding to play football in college. He caught seven touchdowns as a true freshman, and his success that season proved to be an portent of even better things to come.
Quick caught 71 passes for 1,096 yards and 11 touchdowns during his senior season with the Mountaineers and secured every major receiving record in school history. He was also named an FCS All-American.
Quick can be loosely compared to South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery. He's not going to get a whole lot of separation, but he's big (6'4", 220), and he can jump out of the building, as basketball folk like to say.
Unlike Jeffery, however, Quick is very agile. He can make the sharp cuts necessary for the short passing game, which would make him a good candidate for the slot receiver position.
He's currently considered the seventh-best receiver in the 2012 NFL draft.
Kearse's numbers may have dropped off during the 2011 season thanks to the absence of Jake Locker, but there's still a lot to like about this wideout out of Lakewood, WA.
According to NFLMocks.com, he has a knack for finding the open space within the opponent's secondary. That particular skill, paired with his imposing size, makes him especially dangerous in the red zone. Kearse's best asset is his ability to make big things happen after the catch. The report claims that he has a tendency to drop passes and slack during run plays.
Unlike, say, Nick Toon or Mohammed Sanu, Kearse still needs a fair amount of polish before he can make any sort of impact in the NFL.
However, if the Steelers decide to keep Hines Ward around for the final year of his contract, Kearse will have an opportunity to learn how to play the game the right way from one of the hardest working wideouts in the league.
If the Steelers decide to let Ward go, Kearse will have to learn the ropes from Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown—neither of whom are slouches, by any means.
I know what you're thinking. Rico who? Rico Wallace.
Wallace is a 6'3", 210-pound wide receiver out of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia. He hasn't garnered too much attention, due to the very small market that he plays in, but he very well could have the skills to succeed at football's highest level.
Check out what Optimum Scouting had to say about the young wideout:
"When watching film of Rico Wallace, you see a very smooth runner, who is able to weave in and out of traffic. He hits his step hard and makes clean fresh cuts. He has great hands, great size and he reminds me of Dez Bryant (without the attitude). He seems to make everyone on the field better. When asked about practice, Wallace said that “he tries the hardest he can, because he wants the defense to be ready for the opposing team’s receivers.”
Wallace holds every major receiving record at Shenadoah—that's even more impressive when you take into account the fact that SU had a losing for all but one season during Wallace's tenure. In other words, he put up big numbers without much of a supporting cast.
Plus, Pierre Garcon has shown that it's possible for a Division III wideout to have an impact at the NFL level. So why not give Wallace a shot?