Grading The Players - Wide Receivers

Following is a series grading the players and strength of position for the 2003-04 Pittsburgh Steelers.<br><br> Today: Wide Receivers

It¹s hard to believe that just a few short years ago you would have been hard pressed to get another team to trade for a single one of the Steelers receivers. Now, there may not be a better overall group in the league. Hines Ward has been to two consecutive Pro Bowls and has firmly established himself as one of the top five receivers in the league. The 6-0, 200-pound Ward isn¹t the biggest receiver in the league, but there are few who are tougher. He¹s averaged 84.7 catches over the past three seasons and scored a career-high 12 touchdowns last season. Ward may be the best possession receiver in the league. He also gained 142 yards on 11 rushes, not bad for a guy who doesn¹t have top-end speed. Grade A

The perfect compliment to Ward is Plaxico Burress, one of the top deep threats in the league. Burress doesn¹t beat teams deep with his speed, instead using his 6-5, 229-pound body to gain position on smaller defensive backs to get to the ball. Burress averaged 17.0 yards on his 78 receptions, but scored only seven touchdowns. He¹s not a natural receiver, often failing to catch the ball cleanly, but he has gotten better at it. Grade A-

Antwaan Randle El teamed with Ward and Burress last season to form the league¹s most productive receiving trio. The former college quarterback did a little bit of everything for the Steelers last season, catching 47 passes, rushing for 134 yards and completing 7-of-8 passes for 45 yards on trick plays. He also was the team¹s primary return man, scoring once during the regular season on a kickoff return and once in the postseason on a punt return.

But Randle El averaged just 10.4 yards per catch and also lost three fumbles. Even so, Randle El could start for a lot of teams in the league. Grade B-

Lee Mays spent most of his rookie season last year as a kickoff returner, averaging 21 yards on 32 attempts. But he didn¹t catch a pass until the team¹s playoff loss at Tennessee, when he caught three passes for 81 yards. The Steelers expect even more from the 6-2, 192-pound burner this season. Grade Incomplete

The fact that Mays isn¹t capable of handling duties as the team¹s slot receiver opposite Randle El forced the team to look for a veteran free agent. They came up with Chris Doering, who caught 18 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns last season. The former Florida star isn¹t fast, but he has excellent size and is a mismatch for most opponent¹s nickel and dime defensive backs. Still, he¹s nothing more then a journeyman. Grade D

The rest of the receivers on the roster - Phil Braxton, Khori Ivy, Brian Robinson, Leonard Scott, Jason Armstead and Jeremy Conley ­ are nothing more than training camp fodder at this point. With the top five spots pretty much sewn up, there¹s not a lot of hope for them to make the team unless Doering totally flops. Final analysis: Ward, Burress and Randle El make the Steelers¹ receiving corps very dangerous. If Mays improves as the team hopes he will, and Doering fits into the slot position, they will be excellent. Overall Grade A

Dale Lolley

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