Even with Hines Ward’s career winding down, the Steelers seem set at the wide receiver position. The emergence of Antonio Brown from a sixth-round pick to an explosive playmaker has further aided the situation, while Emmanuel Sanders seems to be shaping up into a solid slot receiver.
2010 Stats: 62 receptions, 946 yards, 15.3 yards per catch, 4 touchdowns
2011 Stats: 79 receptions, 1119 yards, 14.2 yards per catch, 11 touchdowns
Projected Round: 2
While it is unlikely the Steelers look for a wide receiver this early in the draft, Dwight Jones has undeniable talent.
Despite his 6’4”, 225-lb frame, Jones has a very fluid running style which contributes to the fact that he averages a 4.5 40-yard time, having been clocked as running a 4.43. Jones also catches the ball well, keeping it in his hands and away from his body.
However, with the ball in his hands Jones doesn’t make people miss, with his high YAC numbers due to him often running deep downfield routes. He also runs a limited route tree, but what he knows he runs well. In North Carolina’s system, he is not required to run a hitch or an in, two common red zone routes. Despite good speed in the 40, his acceleration off the line is slow.
Jones is a good receiver to lob the ball up for on deep routes, however will require work with NFL coaches to round out his game and make him a more capable red zone target.
Being projected in the middle of the second round will mean that the Steelers would either have to trade up from their second-round spot, or take him in the first round, a waste of a pick which could be spent better elsewhere. Excluding the possibility of a draft day slide, Jones is a possible, if unlikely selection for the Steelers.
2010 Stats: 82 receptions, 1233 yards, 15.0 yards per catch, 11 touchdowns
2011 Stats: 75 receptions, 956 yards, 12.7 yards per catch, 11 touchdowns
Projected Round: 2-3
Juron Criner’s big numbers are partly a product of the system he plays in. In Arizona’s spread offense, Criner gets plenty of catches on short passes and screens from Nick Foles which he can then take for bigger gains.
This agility adds something to the 6’4” Criner, but he is not limited to juking defenders, often powering through arm tackles as well.
Criner has soft hands and reels in almost anything thrown to him. Arizona will also move him inside to the slot for short attempts to pick up first downs or score from short range.
However, Criner takes long strides when running, limiting his utility on some shorter routes. Playing in the spread offense, he does not face press coverage and he does not have elite explosion off of the snap.
The most concerning thing about Criner, however, is that his passion for the game has been questioned. This is a serious red flag for any prospect, but could potentially bring Criner down in the draft and into the Steelers range on draft day.
Criner was also hospitalised after undergoing neurological testing in the offseason, though the seriousness of his condition was not released, and will undoubtedly be thoroughly tested at the combine.
2010 Stats: 53 receptions, 861 yards, 16.2 yards per catch, 8 touchdowns
2011 Stats: 78 receptions, 1269 yards, 16.3 yards per catch, 12 touchdowns
Projected Round: 3-4
McNutt has an advantage over many of his fellow wide receivers in this list as he was a former quarterback, which has helped with his understanding of coverages and how they will react to him.
He is also fearless going across the middle and has great body control making catches on the sidelines.
At this stage, he is relatively raw as a receiver and needs to work on some of the intricacies of route running but his high football IQ and great size often helps overcome this.
However, McNutt will often round off his cuts on sharp breaks. He also lacks elite athleticism, having average deep speed, acceleration and leaping ability.
McNutt has good hands overall but has dropped some easy passes, something which is in part due to him letting the ball come into his body rather than catching it away from his frame and bringing it in.
McNutt could be available in the middle rounds which makes him likely to be available for the Steelers.
2010 Stats: 33 receptions, 544 yards, 16.5 yards per catch, 3 touchdowns
2011 Stats: 50 receptions, 904 yards, 18.1 yards per catch, 8 touchdowns
Projected Round: 3-4
Rueben Randle is a potentially elite receiver with size and explosiveness. Randle is quick off the line and into his breaks. He also plays physical with defenders while running and fends off would-be tacklers.
Randle also times his jumps well in order to catch the ball at the highest point, as well as keeping the ball away from his body.
Randle makes good cuts but does not run polished routes. Also, he can be inconsistent and disappear in games. When it comes to getting off the line for short and intermediate routes, he needs to work on beating the press.
Randle’s draft stock suffers due to Jordan Jefferson playing quarterback for the LSU Tigers. However, he is a potentially elite prospect who Pittsburgh should look to pick up in the middle rounds.
2010 Stats: 53 receptions, 885 yards, 16.7 yards per catch, 8 touchdowns
2011 Stats: 40 receptions, 654 yards, 16.4 yards per catch, 3 touchdowns
Projected Round: 6
Another talented receiver whose draft stock has taken a hit due to poor quarterback play. Derek Moye of Penn State is the tallest of the five at 6’5”.
He is not an elite athlete and does not explode off of the line, but does have good speed when downfield, with a 16.4 yards per catch average on the season, though his long strides slow his acceleration.
After making a catch, Moye covers the ball well and lowers his pad level for contact. As a red zone receiver, Moye works the inside well and is capable of catching the ball consistently in traffic.
Moye needs to extend for the ball when going across the middle. He also needs to work on catching the ball away from his body. He can be jammed at the line by a good press corner and could do with adding some more weight to his wiry frame.
Moye will likely be a situational player for the Steelers rather than a starting wide receiver if he is drafted by the team, used in short yardage situations and in the red zone. He will likely be available late in the draft.