NFL Draft: Later-round receivers could be of interest to Steelers

When asked how comfortable he was with his receiver group at the recent NFL meetings, Mike Tomlin specifically mentioned Eli Rogers by name.

There's one problem, with that, however. Actually, there might be two. First, Rogers suffered a torn ACL and torn meniscus in the Steelers' season-ending playoff loss to Jacksonville. Second, Rogers is an unrestricted free agent.

Throw in the fact Martavis Bryant will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2018 season and Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster are backed up by journeymen Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter, and the Steelers might be in the market for a late-round pick at the wide receiver position in this year's draft, which will be held April 26-28.

If the Steelers re-sign Rogers at some point, which is likely, they'll have their punt returner back, at least for one more season. But finding another deep threat capable of replacing Bryant after this season could be an issue.

Potential punt returners can be found in a lot of different places -- in fact, the team also likes Cameron Sutton in that role. But large deep threats? Those are a little different.

That's where a mid-round prospect such as Clemson's Deon Cain could come into play. Much like Bryant, who also went to Clemson Cain is a big (6-2, 202), speedy (4.43 40) receiver who had some issues with drops in college.

But the talent he possesses is undeniable.

In three seasons for the Tigers, Cain averaged 15.7 yards on his 130 receptions, also scoring 20 times. One problem, however, is that the drops he experienced might not be because of lack of attention to detail or loss of concentration. His 8 3/4-inch hands were some of the smallest among receivers at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"Technically, when I look at the film and I go back and just try to break it down and see why did I drop that, I mostly see focus drops," Cain said. "It's something I've had to work on, and my coaches been telling me every day in practice that you've got to catch the ball before you run. I'm just one of the quick twitch guys. I just want to make a play. But you've got to hold onto the ball before anything, so I practice that everyday — jug machines, everyday after practice, anything just trying to get better doing that."

One thing Cain prides himself in is something the Steelers insist they get from their receivers -- blocking in the run game.

Cain doesn't mind physical play. In fact, he welcomes it, much as he did against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, when he was the only Clemson offensive player to post a solid performance.

"I showed physicality," Cain said of his six-catch, 75-yard performance against the eventual national champions. "I showed that I can play on the inside, play the outside, show that I'm a one receiver, so I felt that was one of my best games last year."

This year's receiver crop is missing obvious stars and we could see only one or two selected in the first round. But there is decent depth, overall. Here are my rankings of the top-10 receivers available:


  1. Calvin Ridley, 6-1, 190, Alabama
  2. D.J. Moore, 5-11, 215, Maryland
  3. Anthony Miller, 5-10, 205, Memphis
  4. Courtland Sutton, 6-4, 215, SMU
  5. James Washington, 6-0, 205, Oklahoma State
  6. Dante Pettis, 6-1, 192, Washington
  7. Christian Kirk, 5-11, 200, Texas A&M
  8. DaeSean Hamilton, 6-1, 205, Penn State
  9. D.J. Chark, 6-3, 199, LSU
  10. Deon Cain, 6-2, 202, Clemson

If the Steelers wait a little later to take a receiver, a local product might be the guy they look to.

Penn's Justin Watson, a South Fayette High School product, has intriguing size at 6-2, 215 pounds and was ridiculously productive as a four-year starter at Penn, setting school records with 286 catches for 3,777 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Many viewed Watson as a possession-type receiver, but he stood out at the East-West Shrine and Senior Bowl practices and then blistered his pro day workout.

Though he wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, Watson's pro day performances would have ranked among the best there. He ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, faster than all but three receivers at the combine, while only LSU's D.J. Chark matched his 40-inch vertical jump.

"I wasn't nervous for it because I knew I'd prepared well and I knew how well I'd do," Watson told DKPS this week. "It hit all of my goals. I really wanted to hit 40-inches in the vertical. That was big."

Watson had the Steelers as one of his nine team visits. He travelled to Green Bay to meet with the Packers late this week. He met with the Steelers over Easter weekend.

"I grew up a Steelers fan, wearing my Steelers jersey to church on Sundays," he said. "It was pretty surreal. It was like a regular job interview, but I'm watching film and talking football with Coach Tomlin."

If not Watson, the Steelers also could be interested in Middle Tennessee speedster Richie James, who has plenty of playmaking ability but a lengthy injury history.


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