Is this Ben Roethlisberger's best receiving group in his career?
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Ben Roethlisberger has played with a lot of great wide receivers in his career from Hines Ward to Antonio Brown to the current sensation in Chase Claypool. Kevin Colbert has always given the franchise quarterback plenty of talent to work with and is the best in the league when it comes to drafting wide receivers. Roethlisberger is in his 17th season with the Steelers and this year's group might just be the most talented receivers corps he's ever played with.
Roethlisberger has distributed the ball to his skill players well this season as they are the only team in the NFL with five players with three touchdowns or more -- Claypool (7), JuJu Smith-Schuster (5), Diontae Johnson (4), James Washington (3) and Eric Ebron (3).
The Steelers have four players this year with 323 yards receiving or more, with Claypool and Smith-Schuster having 500 yards or more receiving. There are six players with 20 receptions or more on the team, Smith-Schuster leads the group with 54 receptions.
It's a receiving core that can attack defenses in many ways and the group's depth makes it hard for defenses to double-team one player, as things will open up for other receivers as they'll win their one-on-one matchups.
For instance, when Antonio Brown was in Pittsburgh he was constantly double-teamed by defenses and still put up ridiculous production. In 2016, other than Brown they had the likes of Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton and Jesse James as receiving options for Roethlisberger. Brown was their only receiving threat, and he still managed to have 106 receptions for 1,284 yards (12.1 average) and 12 touchdowns that season.
The lack of depth on the 2016 team hurt the Steelers when they lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, 36-17. New England had a talented secondary and double-teamed Brown, holding him to seven receptions for 77 yards and no touchdowns. His 77 yards receiving still was a team-high in the game. It certainly didn't help the offense that Le'Veon Bell left the game late in the first quarter with a left groin injury and didn't return, rushing for just 20 yards on 6 carries in 11 snaps. But the lack of depth at the receiver position left them helpless against a good Patriots' defense.
That's the difference with this year's team, they have multiple talented targets for Roethlisberger to throw too, and it's not just one player getting all the production. When they face a good defense in the playoffs, they won't be thrown off if one receiver is getting shut down because they have so much more to work with.
Roethlisberger has played with talented receiving groups in the past -- Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El in 2004; Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington and Heath Miller in 2008; Ward, Holmes, Wallace and Miller in 2009; Ward, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Randle El, Brown and Miller in 2010; Ward, Wallace, Sanders, Brown and Miller in 2011; and Brown, Martavis Bryant and Smith-Schuster in 2017. (You can even add Bell who had 85 receptions that season.)
It's arguable whether this year's receivers corps is the best in Roethlisberger's career, but when it comes to overall depth, it's the best No. 7 has ever had.