A couple of weeks ago Ben Roethlisberger was asked if he had a reliable number two wide receiver. Roethlisberger brushed it off, and did not directly answer the question, saying that it was on him to get everybody involved and find other threats behind Antonio Brown, whoever it is. However, over the past two games, this actually might be a legitimate question surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Who is the Pittsburgh Steelers Second Wide Receiver and Does it Matter?
Over the past two games, JuJu Smith-Schuster played 105 snaps. In that same span, Martavis Bryant has 93 snaps. Bryant has five receptions for 78 yards, Smith-Schuster has the same number of receptions but for 86 yards and a touchdown. Smith-Schuster is the youngest player in the NFL, but the Steelers are putting him into big roles early on in the season and it is paying dividends greater than what the current version of Bryant is bringing.
The question is does this matter? In a broad scale, no. In fact, this could be the signs of Bryant, and the offense as a whole having the potential to reach another level. Last week, the Steelers moved the two of them around and lined up Bryant in the slot for 21 plays. Smith-Schuster lined up more than 21 times in the slot overall, but on plays with Bryant and Brown, both Bryant and Smith-Schuster saw the exact same amount of snaps in the slot, 21.
As shown above, the Steelers are putting Bryant in the slot next to Antonio Brown. On the outside, this ensures Smith-Schuster, a much superior blocker, can free the edge for a Le’Veon Bell run. On the other side, Bryant is lined up right next to the best receiver in all of football. The two can run crossing posts, a slant and an out, or a lot of directions that can confuse and force the defense to respect the pass no matter what. This will not only clear space in the run game but make life handling the pass on one side of the field a nightmare.
Above, we see Smith-Schuster in the slot. On this particular play, Bryant runs a go route and takes the safety on the top left with him. The linebacker follows Jesse James and Smith-Schuster, one-on-one, runs an easy curl route for a first down. The diversity and dual-threat away from Brown are going to raise the ceiling for this team.
Long Term Implications
In the long term, this cannot be a great sign for Bryant. Bryant has one season after this one on his rookie scale contract. Having a contract pushed back one season because of a suspension winds up being nice for the Steelers, but that does not necessarily make a good case at the bargaining table when looking for an extension.
Bryant is a very talented receiver and is going to hit an open market with heavy buyers. The Steelers have Eli Rogers, and an ability to draft receivers well. The fact that Smith-Schuster could technically be called a number two receiver just four weeks into his rookie season may not bode well for the long-term status of Bryant with the Steelers.
While the Steelers may not have a number two wide receiver, that should only help the offense when speaking in terms of this season. We will see if Smith-Schuster continues to earn the status of number two snaps next week after another impressive performance in Week Four and what sort of impact that will have on Bryant and his status down the road.