Another in a position-by-position series examining the Steelers roster in advance of the start of free agency on March 10:*
(Free Agent Scorecard: 1 unrestricted – Darrius Heyward-Bey)
During the same offseason when the Steelers were getting ripped for trading Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets and getting only a fifth-round pick in return, the team would take what they got and turn it into a better player, a first-team All-Pro. When the fifth round of the 2010 draft came around, the Steelers traded the No. 5 pick they got for Holmes to the Cardinals in return for CB Bryant McFadden and Arizona's sixth-round pick. The Steelers then used that No. 6 pick on the guy whose 129 catches in 2014 represented the third largest single-season total in NFL history. Antonio Brown is a premiere playmaker, he has exceptional hand/eye/feet coordination, he's dangerous to defenses after the catch. Mike Tomlin has called him "one of the best in the world at what he does," and after his 2014 Brown deserves that label.
Photos of the Steelers Wide Receivers during the 2014 season.
Tomlin's end-of-season assessment of the receiver who was inactive for the first six games of his rookie year only to come on to catch 26 passes for 549 yards (21.1 average) and eight touchdowns was on point. "I saw growth in him. And that growth came with snaps," said Tomlin. "I would imagine he is going to get more opportunities to grow with those snaps. The thing is, he has to continue to grow and have an open mind. He has to acknowledge that he doesn't have all the answers. Sometimes that is seemingly more difficult than it appears. He probably has less anxiety now than he did nine or 10 months ago because there are less unknowns. Sometimes that's a good thing for men, and sometimes that's a bad thing for men. I am going to be watching him very closely as he proceeds." If Bryant remains the coachable individual he was in 2014, he can develop into a dynamic NFL receiver.
At 5-foot-9, 188 pounds, Chancellor projects to a slot receiver in the NFL, and he also is said to have some kick return ability. Another of the players signed to a futures contract. With Lance Moore having requested his release and likely to get what he wants, maybe there is a spot for Chancellor.
There is something here, some reason the Steelers kept a guy from a Division II college on the practice squad and then signed him to a futures contract over someone like Justin Brown, who had been a draft pick. Maybe it's because Goodwin is 6-foot-3, but whatever the reason he's going to have to accelerate his development to stick around in 2015. He was 25 on Feb. 4.
For a player who entered the NFL as the seventh overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, and as a wide receiver to boot, Heyward-Bey showed no diva tendencies whatsoever during his season with the Steelers. In fact, he twice drew unsolicited praise from Mike Tomlin for his ability and willingness to play special teams. Based on the arrangement of the depth chart, Heyward-Bey would have to be considered the No. 5 receiver, and his three catches for 33 yards on the season support that. On special teams, he had five tackles and a forced fumble. Heyward-Bey is a good guy to have around, but that would depend on getting a new contract done.
While not a disastrous free agent signing, it's also fair to say this arrangement didn't work out as expected either. Supposed to be the No. 3 receiver, Moore missed a bunch of time during the camp/preseason period and lost that job early to Justin Brown. Moore never had more than two catches in a game, and he finished with 14 for 198 yards and two touchdowns. And by the end of the season, Moore wasn't even established enough to be active for the playoff game vs. the Ravens. It wasn't so much that Moore seemed incapable, but he never really developed a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger. Moore figures to get cut in March, with the Steelers then looking to make better use to the cap space he filled.
Signed to a futures contract, Washington is now on his sixth team since joining the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted rookie after the 2014 draft. The Cowboys cut him in early August, and then he also had stints with the 49ers, Giants, Browns, and Dolphins before winding up on the Steelers roster. At 6-foot-4, and having run a 4.38 at the Combine, Washington certainly is an intriguing prospect, and he also has a lot of reasons to fight to succeed. His father was murdered when L'Damian was 5, and his mother died from a stroke while watching one of his high school basketball games. Washington hopes to make an NFL career for himself so he can care for his three brothers.
It's just a matter of time for Wheaton, because he has all of the skills and he is willing to put in whatever work is necessary to improve. He ended up having nine games with four-plus receptions, and the fact he had five for 66 yards in the playoff game shows his arrow was pointing up. Wheaton also stepped in to return kickoffs once Dri Archer finally got the hook, and it was an improvement, albeit a slight one. Wheaton and Bryant can take advantage of all of the defensive attention drawn by Brown, but soon both of them will have to be able to return the favor. There have been no signs so far that can't happen.