Updated: Aug 28
While Pittsburgh had a limited and unproven receiver room last year, this year the roster of receivers looks much better. I go over each receiver and give my depth chart predictions.
I pretty much covered JuJu entirely in a previous article so I will keep this short. JuJu is Pittsburghs' #1 receiver this year on the depth chart, and he has to prove that this year or he won't get resigned. The Steelers tend to low ball money sometimes and they could offer JuJu a 3 year $15-$20 million contract as a #2 receiver instead of a 3 year $30-$35 million dollar contract as a #1 receiver, these are just guesses on what the contract could be, there is also a possibility of him getting franchise tagged. If there is a healthy Ben and a healthy Smith-Schuster, he should have a healthy statistical year.
Switzer is a curious case because he's been behind people his entire NFL career and been injured often. Switzer is coming off of an injury ridiculed season and is expected to resume his spot as slot receiver and kick returner, but can Switzer even make it through camp? In Switzer's two year career with Pittsburgh he has accumulated 44 receptions for 280 yards and a single touchdown in the span of 25 games. Kick return wise he has returned 39 kicks for 773 yards and no scores.
Ryan is often ridiculed by fans for his offensive contributions and returns, this year he is changing things. He has put on a lot of muscle and is showing out in camp, sounds like he's hungry. He has a newborn baby and has recently purchased a house, if that isn't a reason to try and secure his job I don't know what is. Switzer will be one of the oldest receivers the Steelers have rostered, if not the oldest, he will be called upon as a veteran receiver along with JuJu and will have to have a very productive year in 2020.
While at Buffalo, Johnson was a touchdown machine. Johnson put up 25 touchdowns on 133 catches for 2367 yards in just two years. From his highlight tape it looks like he is a reliable red zone receiver and catches some contested passes. Johnson is 6'2 and as I've said many times before, Ben loves his big bodies, especially in the red zone where it counts. In Buffalo, they just threw it up to him around or towards the end zone, he is more of a deep threat because of his big body, his way of getting behind defenders, and ability to watch the ball come all the way to him.
Anthony isn't necessarily a speed demon. I see some Martinis Bryant in him, a tall athlete with probably half of Bryant's speed and a down the field target. If he doesn't end up making the team, Pittsburgh will have him on special teams kickoffs and punts. Make sure to watch the video above to digest the kind of player he is for yourself.
Amara Darboh has been a Steeler before, never played for them but was an addition to the practice squad a couple years back. Darboh spent this last season in Seattle playing all 16 games. In 2019 Amara recorded 8 receptions for 81 yards and no score. He does show signs of speed as his longest play was a 16 yard catch and his yards per catch was a 8.9 average. Darboh might need to work on his hands a little bit as he only had a 61.5% catch percentage. Amara also averaged a 5.5% yards per target. I don't really seeing him making the team especially if Anthony Johnson is there because he seems more reliable than Darboh. He could definitely be an addition to another squad but not here in a young and crowded receiver room like Pittsburgh.
Deon Cain came to Pittsburgh after playing 7 games with the Colts in the 2019 season. Cain was a practice squad signee and drew some penalties from defenders and made a couple of good catches, I would love to see Cain in Pittsburgh for 2020.
In 2019 with the Colts, Cain had 4 receptions for 52 yards and no touchdowns over 7 games. Once in Pittsburgh, Cain had 5 catches for 72 yards and no score in a 6 game span. Deon averaged a total of 13.8 yards per reception and his longest reception was 35 yards. Deon Cain is a 6'2 target for Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh finally has some big receivers.
Coming off an increased role in 2019, Washington is expected to do better things with a more accurate and experienced QB. Last year, Washington caught 44 passes for 735 yards and 3 touchdowns over the span of 15 games. James showcased his hands and concentration last year, most notably against Cleveland where he caught a bobbled pass in double coverage for a touchdown.
James found himself getting targeted 80 times last year, he caught just over 50% of those passes(55%) and averaged 16.7 yards per reception. he has also showcased open field running, against the Bengals in week 12 Washington had a 79 yard touchdown reception, he stiff armed a defender and turned on the jets for the final ten yards. Washington has shown he has promise for this upcoming season and I can't wait. He will definitely be a top target as he has shown he can hold on to the ball when hit hard or pinned along the sideline. One last thing on Washingtons' open field running, he waits for blocks to set up ahead of him, something young players don't often do because they want to prove themselves. Watch out for Washington in 2020!
One of the most recent Pittsburgh signee is return specialist/receiver Ray-Ray McCloud. The Steelers signing of McCloud was a bit of a surprise because of the depth at return and receiver. Ray-Ray's return stats are more padded than his receiving stats, he has a total of 14 punt returns for 102 yards and no score. Kick return wise he has 9 returns for 192 yards and no score. McCloud averages 7.3 yards per punt return and has a long return of 39 yards. On kick returns he averages 21.3 yards per return and has a long return of 31 yards. Ray-Ray has caught 5 passes for 36 yards and no touchdowns.
Assuming the Steelers brought him in to compete with Switzer, Johnson, and Whyte for returner duties, he doesn't have the best ball security. McCloud and Johnson have 5 fumbles each in their career, Switzer has 4 and Whyte has 0. Pittsburgh does arguably the best job training and preparing receivers, McCloud, if he makes the roster, could see a few snaps at receiver during the season. For now, he is looking at competing for returner duties until coaches say otherwise.
Chase Claypool was Pittsburgh's first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft(2nd round). He played all four years at Notre Dame and played in bowl games 3 straight years. In his four years, he caught 150 passes and a total of 2165 yards with 19 touchdowns. Claypool has a nose for the end zone, a deep or short route, he will catch it and break tackles doing it. Chase averaged a total of 14.4 yards per reception and has not fumbled. He can box out the defender or catch around him, he will catch it. Claypool played some special teams in college, he will split time between special teams and offense but will eventually be a starter on offense. His role will be similar to JuJu's during his rookie year, not a lot of action but will be a red zone target.
After a fantastic rookie season, Diontae Johnson is sprouting into a #1 receiver. During his rookie campaign, he recorded 59 catches for 680 yards and 5 scores. Johnson turned plays that were nothing into something, he ran back punts, he was especially gifted in YAC(yards after catch) with 305 YAC. Johnson averaged 4 receptions per game along with a 42 yards per game average and averaged a 64.1 catch percentage. Diontae dropped only 6 passes last year, which is pretty good for a rookie. This year he will be receiver #3 but if JuJu or Washington don't play well, he will become the second receiver. When targeting Johnson, only two interceptions were thrown, that either means he did a good job blocking out the defender or they were bad throws.
Johnson did catch some deep balls last year and made the best of them. His best play last year had to have came against the Dolphins on Monday Night on 3rd&20, that was his signature play which put the Steelers back in the game right before half.
This is an important year for Diontae to prove he can improve on his stats and be a reliable deep threat. Johnson is kind of like Antonio Brown in his speed and route running capabilities.
*Pittsburgh signed WR Saeed Blacknall and released LB/DE James Lockhart on 8/28/20
2020 Steelers WR depth chart prediction
WR1- JuJu Smith-Schuster
WR2- James Washington
WR3- Diontae Johnson
WR4- Chase Claypool
WR5/returner- Ryan Switzer
WR6- Deon Cain
WR- Anthony Johnson
WR- Ray-Ray McCloud
WR- Amara Darboh