Hines Ward obviously isn’t a young player anymore. He also throws his body around like few wide receivers in recent memory and is always an injury risk, which is something Pittsburgh cannot afford.
But Ward can still get it done and brings a rare toughness to the position. He is 34, but his 1,167 receiving yards last year were the second-best total of his 13-year career. He did that despite battling hamstring issues as well. Ward just keeps on ticking and remains extremely consistent. But someday, a drop-off is bound to happen.
Mike Wallace’s role should expand in his second season in the NFL. Gone is Santonio Holmes, and Wallace will be asked to pick up the slack as the starter opposite Ward. The defensive schemes will be more prohibitive in this role, but it is clear Wallace has big-play ability and rare speed to get deep downfield. He averaged a whopping 19.4 yards per catch last season -- good enough to lead the league -- but he isn’t the most physical or strongest wideout around and will have to show that he can handle the more physical aspects of the position as a full-time starter .
Wallace will be the deep threat as Ward handles more of the intermediate detail. But any way you cut it, Holmes may have been the Steelers’ best wide receiver last season and will be very difficult to replace on the field.
Antwaan Randle El might have a very difficult time holding off a pair of rookies for the No. 3 wideout position. Pittsburgh used its third-round pick on Emmanuel Sanders and a sixth-rounder on Antonio Brown. Both players were very productive at the college level and look to be ideally suited for the slot role in the pros. Brown is more physical and probably better with the ball in his hands, but Sanders is very explosive, faster and an excellent deep threat.
Meanwhile, Randle El is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of receiver at this point. He, of course, offers some trick-play abilities, but in the end, he seems like someone who will be passed up on the depth chart. However, all three of these slot options are lacking in the size department. In fact, so are all the wideouts discussed here.
The Steelers do have a vastly underrated tight end in Heath Miller. Miller’s role could expand quite a bit, especially over the middle of the field and near the goal line. So, although wideout is a potential weakness for Pittsburgh, it could be much worse.