The talented wide receiver used the 2013 free agency period to go swimming with the Miami Dolphins, meaning that Pittsburgh has lost one of the best deep threats that the game has to offer. Miami gave him $60 million over five years for a reason, as Wallace stretches out opposing defenses and knows how to find the end zone.
Pittsburgh has already taken the important step of re-signing Emmanuel Sanders, which will be beneficial, but a bona fide No. 1 receiver is still missing from the roster.
Can the Steelers find someone in this draft that can step onto the field from day one and be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's go-to weapon?
The unfortunate reality is that there is no Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald in this class. There is nobody that will be an immediate superstar, but there are players that could blossom into that type of player. There are guys that can provide the skills that Pittsburgh needs, so that Antonio Brown and Sanders can remain complementary playmakers.
Still, Pittsburgh has multiple ways that it can attack the wide receiver position once the draft gets underway. The Steelers have other needs that must be addressed, namely at running back, linebacker and cornerback, but there is a strong chance the team looks for a WR in the first round.
Two guys could fit the mold at pick No. 17:
Tavon Austin, West Virginia, 5'9", 174 pounds
The closer we get to the draft, the higher Tavon Austin's stock continues to rise. He is the consensus best wide receiver in this class and is one of the most dynamic slot weapons that the college ranks have produced in recent years.
Austin has a skill set similar to that of Percy Harvin, meaning his versatility is his greatest asset. Austin can line up in the slot or the backfield, as an H-back or in the return game.
Last season, Austin recorded 114 receptions for 1,289 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is somewhat similar to the smaller receivers already on the roster, but he is far too talented to overlook if he slips to pick No. 17.
Simply watch on this play as Austin is given the end around handoff and blazes past defenders along the sideline en route to six points:
Austin opens up the playbook in exciting ways and has the kind of speed that Wallace became famous for with the Black and Yellow. What Austin is not going to do is provide a legitimate outside receiver that has a big, strong frame and the ability to bully defenders. For that we turn to...
Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee, 6'2", 216 pounds
Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson presents what may be the most intriguing "risk/reward" scenario in this draft. He was absolutely amazing this past season for the Volunteers, registering 46 receptions for 778 yards and five touchdowns. However, that also presents the biggest issue with him, which is that Patterson spent only one season in Knoxville.
Patterson clearly burst onto the scene, but he was at a community college in Kansas until last season. Can Pittsburgh take the chance of bringing in a one-hit wonder?
The potential benefits are hard to ignore. Patterson has the frame that Pittsburgh needs in a top wideout, yet he is also versatile enough to line up in multiple spots. Patterson would not win any races against Austin, but he can line up in the slot and knows how to make defenders miss once he gets the ball in his hands.
Patterson is the type of player that needs only the ball and a few feet of space to work with before he carves out a path to the end zone. Simply look at this play from a game against the NC State Wolfpack to understand:
Patterson may be the player who is most ready to make an impact immediately with the Steelers. He does, however, have some issues with drops, but that only makes him more like Wallace anyway.
Again, there is no guarantee that Pittsburgh looks to take a WR in the first round. This class has receiver depth later on, and the second round could present a pair of stronger receivers that fit the Steelers' needs:
Robert Woods, USC, 6'0", 201 pounds
Technically speaking, USC's Robert Woods is not a big-bodied receiver. He stands at just 6'0" tall, but he plays like someone much larger. Woods fights for passes when they are in the air. He utilizes tremendous body positioning to always be a step ahead of defenders and his skill set should translate quickly to the next level.
NFL.com's scouting report has the following to say about Woods:
Can make catches in traffic and track passes over his shoulder. At times shows the strength and agility to spin out of tackle attempts in the secondary. Willing to go over the middle, take a hit and hang on. Has the speed to run past defenders, but also uses his long arms to create space from defenders downfield. Gives his quarterback a target when plays break down by going deep or coming across the field.
Does this not sound like the perfect weapon for Roethlisberger? Plays frequently break down and Big Ben scrambles around looking for someone to get the ball to. It would be nice to have someone that does not need to be taught how to work back to the ball and stay with the QB when everything does not go according to plan.
Woods does not have the pure speed of Wallace, Austin or Patterson, but he is a sound football player with few weaknesses.
DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson, 6'1", 214 pounds
It is tough to decide which receiver would be the better option in the second round between Woods and DeAndre Hopkins out of Clemson. Hopkins really came into his own during the 2012 season, recording 82 catches for 1,405 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns.
Hopkins is a great route-runner who gets himself into position to make plays. He is not afraid to go over the middle or absorb impact on big hits. He makes those tough catches in traffic and yet also has a penchant for highlight plays.
Perhaps most importantly, Hopkins knows how to be a great red-zone threat and excels in jump-ball scenarios. Look at this catch he made against Auburn:
Hopkins goes after the ball at its highest point, works around an over-matched defender and brings down the pass for six points. This is a trait that Pittsburgh could really use in its receivers.
So what does this all add up to? Can any of these players truly excel in the vacated role let behind by Wallace?
They all could, but the best potential for value to go along with fitting into Pittsburgh's offensive scheme is Woods. He is dynamic, versatile and a skilled route-runner. Woods is likely going to be available into the second round, meaning Pittsburgh can hope to address another pressing need in the draft's earlier round.
He may never have the speed of Wallace, but his all-around game could make Wallace's departure much easier to deal with.
Agree? Disagree? Have another receiver that you think is the perfect fit for Pittsburgh to draft? Sound off in the comments below.
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