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Got Hands? Steelers Focusing On Receivers Who Catch Everything



Over the last 15 years or so, dating back to the 2009 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers have developed a reputation of being quite good at identifying, drafting and then developing high-end talent at the wide receiver position.

That includes names like Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and now George Pickens.

More often than not, the Steelers have hit on the position, unearthing some gems and being able to consistently churn through the position to find productive, dependable pieces.

Entering the 2024 NFL Draft, the Steelers are going to need to do it again. Pittsburgh traded Johnson this offseason to the Carolina Panthers. So far in the pre-draft process, the Steelers have shown quite a bit of interest in receivers, meeting formally with some of the biggest names in the draft class at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine and then hosting a number of talented receivers for official pre-draft visits in the last month or so.

There’s a glaring need at the position for Pittsburgh. It’s very clear that the Steelers know this. To try and fill that need, they appear to be shifting their focus at the position and placing a greater emphasis on consistency with the hands.

Of the seven receivers the Steelers have brought in for a pre-draft visit, all but one of them have good, consistent hands, rarely resulting in drops. That is something that plagued the Steelers throughout the careers of Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and even Smith-Schuster.

Take a look:

  • Adonai Mitchell, Texas — 1 career drop (1 last season)
  • Ricky Pearsall, Florida — 4 career drops (2 last season) 
  • Xavier Legette, South Carolina — 8 career drops (2 last season)
  • Luke McCaffrey, Rice — 8 career drops (3 last season)
  • Ladd McConkey, Georgia — 10 career drops (2 last season)
  • Malachi Corley, Western Kentucky — 13 career drops (6 last season)
  • Tahj Washington, USC — 14 career drops (1 last season)

Pretty remarkable the consistency the group of receivers the Steelers have shown interest in when it comes to something that seems so very basic for the receiving position, but is actually much harder than one would think, and is a very important trait to have, that being catching the football consistently.

Rice’s Luke McCaffrey, who comes from great NFL bloodlines as the son of former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey and the brother of San Francisco running back Christian McCaffrey, is in just his second full season at the wide receiver position, having transitioned from quarterback. He has just eight total drops with 131 receptions to this point in his career.

Just three drops last season from McCaffrey was a better number than more accomplished receivers like Western Kentucky’s Malachi Corley had in 2023. Corley has some video game stats, no doubt — he had 239 career receptions at the collegiate level — but the 13 career drops and six last season is a bit concerning, even if the six drops came on an inflated number of targets due to the spread offense he played in.

USC’s Tahj Washington profiles as a solid slot option in the NFL, one who is a solid route runner and has some wiggle to him. Though he had 14 career drops, those came across five total seasons between Memphis and USC. He had just one drop last season playing with quarterback Caleb Williams. He was a dependable target.

Mitchell having just one career drop in college is truly remarkable. It’s a jaw-dropping number, especially considering the style of game he plays at the position, one who lives above the rim and makes a number of contested catches. Same for Pearsall, who had just four career drops in five seasons.

In the past, the Steelers seemed to focus more on the height/weight/speed combination and route running at the position, with consistency catching the football falling behind in some instances. After dealing with some drops frustration from Johnson and Claypool in the past, and now shifting fully into Arthur Smith’s style of offense, the Steelers appear — at least from a pre-draft visit perspective — to be putting an emphasis on simply catching the football.

That’s in line with the interest in George Pickens two years ago, too, leading to his selection. Making the routine plays routinely is important to head coach Mike Tomlin. Catching the football falls into that. In some instances, the Steelers seemed to sacrifice that at times for the more intriguing physical traits.

That doesn’t appear to be the case this year.


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