5 WRs the Pittsburgh Steelers Absolutely Must Target in 2013 NFL Draft
The Steelers need to add depth at the wide receiver position, and it is looking like they will have to do it through the draft.
Pittsburgh should be trying to add youth to its increasingly geriatric roster. Its current crop of receivers is serviceable, but unremarkable.
Mike Wallace predictably took his ability to drop passes to Miami, leaving Antonio Brown as Pittsburgh’s best receiving option. The rest of the Steelers' motley receiving crew is made up of Emmanuel Sanders (who is officially a Steeler for at least one more year), Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress.
Ben Roethlisberger needs some help if his offense hopes to compete against three solid defenses in the AFC North. The lack of a consistent running game and Heath Miller’s ACL injury are just more proof that the Steelers could use a young stud to make Roethlisberger’s life easier.
Since the Steelers are too proud of an organization to dip into the free agency pool, the draft is their best bet for bolstering their roster. Who knows, maybe they can nab a prospect who will develop into the next Torrey Smith or Julio Jones.
The Steelers have a lot of needs this offseason, but they should spend at least one high pick on a receiver. There are a few standouts in the 2013 NFL draft class who could immediately have an impact in Pittsburgh.
Tavon Austin, West Virginia
There is a good chance that Austin will be taken before he reaches the Steelers, who pick 17th overall in the first round. If he is still on the board at that time, Pittsburgh should seriously consider taking him over, say, a cornerback or lineman.
Austin converted from a running back to a receiver coming out of high school and flourished during his four years at West Virginia University. His numbers rose every season, culminating in a senior year where he recorded 114 receptions for 1,289 yards and 15 touchdowns (including three rushing touchdowns).
CBS Sports’ draft analysis of Austin described him as having “video game-like athleticism with rare change of direction skills.” They also emphasized his special teams skills, calling him a “dangerous return man…playing with different gears that others on the field just don’t have.”
Austin may be projected to be the first receiver taken in the draft, but the Steelers might be looking for someone taller and stronger. Austin is only 5’9” and weighs in at 174 pounds. The Steelers already have smaller speedsters in Brown and Sanders.
Considering Roethlisberger once complained about not having tall enough receivers, the Steelers might want to make sure their superstar has no qualms about any receivers they may draft.
Then again, that unparalleled speed (he ran a 4.28 40-yard during his workout) and athleticism might make the Steelers consider him to replace former return specialist Chris Rainey. If nothing else, Austin cannot possibly turn out worse than he did.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
Rob Rang of CBS Sports has Patterson being taken by Pittsburgh with its first pick. If the Steelers can pronounce his first name, they should seriously consider drafting the 6’2” standout from Tennessee.
Patterson set 13 records during his time at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas before becoming a Volunteer in 2012. He finished his only season at Tennessee with 46 receptions for 778 yards and five touchdowns. He was also frequently used in the running game, ending up with 308 yards and three touchdowns on 25 rushes.
More impressively, he set a single-season SEC record with a combined kickoff and punt return average of 27.6 yards. Do not forget his Tennessee record-setting 1,858 all-purpose yards.
Patterson is the kind of large, versatile receiver that the Steelers would love to have on their roster. He could make a splash as a wideout and in special teams.
Pittsburgh would also love his attitude. CBS Sports said, “his coaches rave about his football intelligence and his competitive nature, playing focused and fiery.”
He may not be the best route runner in the draft, but Patterson has what it takes to be productive right away with the black and gold.
Robert Woods, Southern California
Woods has been a dominant force for the Trojans since he got to USC in 2010. Since then, he has racked up 252 receptions for 2,930 and 32 touchdowns.
CBS Sports praised Woods’s “deceiving strength to come down with contested grabs with the toughness and fearless attitude to fight for every yard and go over the middle.”
He is the type of player with the potential for huge games, like the 132 yards and four touchdowns he racked up against Colorado last October. Any NFL team could use that type of production.
Admittedly, Woods is not the fastest or strongest receiver in his draft class. The Steelers do not have to take him in the first round, though he would be a great value pick in the second round.
DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
These numbers speak for themselves: Hopkins finished his 2012 season with 82 receptions for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The kid came out of nowhere to have that monster season. To be fair, he is a physical specimen. Hopkins is 6’1”, weighs 214 pounds and has huge hands that measure 10 inches across.
According to CBS Sports, Hopkins has “strong hands with above average body control and focus to highpoint and attack the ball in the air.”
They compare him to Reggie Wayne, another receiver who is not particularly big or fast but is an elite route runner with steady hands. With that kind of potential, the Steelers need to at least consider taking him in the second round.
Wayne was taken 30th overall in the 2001 draft, and he has had an excellent career so far. Hopkins could follow a similar path and carve a niche with the Steelers that he can keep for years to come.
Justin Hunter, Tennessee
2012 was a good year to be a Tennessee wide receiver. In addition to Patterson, the Volunteers also were lucky enough to have Hunter and his 73 receptions for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns.
Hunter is 6’4”, which would make him the third tallest Steeler on the roster behind Burress and Derek Moye. Roethlisberger could work with a big guy who could catch one of his improvised passes from a large catch radius.
CBS Sports called Hunter a “fluid, gliding mover with long strides and deceiving speed to get vertical or make plays after the catch.”
They criticized his occasionally wild play and sometimes poor body language. His 2011 ACL tear also puts his durability into question.
The Steelers could consider drafting Hunter as a project if they are willing to work out kinks like this. He has the potential to blossom into a Burress-like receiver who can jump over cornerbacks and catch the high balls.