MC Steel: The Third Tier Player

Making the case for passing on a wide receiver -- a Tier 3 player -- in the first round when so many other needs are present.

Bill Walsh once said that you don't draft a receiver in the first round until you have all of your other positions solidified. That's probably why he then traded up in the first round to select the G.O.A.T., Jerry Rice, after winning Super Bowl XIX.

Yet even the great Jerry Rice couldn't help the 18-1 Super Bowl champion 49ers team defend their title in his rookie season. So, if Jerry Rice couldn't make the impact that would lead an already great team to the promised land, how is a rookie first-round pick going to make enough of an impact to make that happen for this Steelers team?

Walsh's logic makes perfect sense when analyzing it a little deeper. So much has to happen for a receiver to be consistently successful. One, the offensive line has to be good enough to allow the receiver to get into his route. Two, the quarterback has to be good enough to read coverage, find the receiver, and get the ball to him accurately. It's at that point, Tier 3, that the receiver can make a play. Tier 1 (offensive line) and Tier 2 (quarterback) have be successful for Tier 3 to be effective. Even in today's short passing game, other receivers and linemen have to get out and block to spring the play.

We could even extend that to say the receiver position is Tier 4. Without a good running game, it's very difficult to generate big plays. Maybe even a Tier 5, because quality of performance can be enhanced or negated by the quality of the offensive coordinator or lack thereof. All positions rely on other positions. That's obvious. But let's keep it simple and call the receiver position a Tier 3 position.

On top of the offensive variables surrounding receiver success, even if your line and quarterback are good players, the receivers can still be negated by a great defense. Texas A&M has/had two tackles and a QB projected to go high in the first round, yet against Missouri, Mike Evans has 4 catches for 8 yards. The big target was negated by the likes of Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, and E.J. Gaines.

Peyton Manning completed a couple of back-shoulder fades to his big targets in the Super Bowl. Yet overall, Seattle's stellar cornerback play consistently narrowed throwing windows and made Manning hold the ball long enough to make critical mistakes. We saw in that game how great corner play can affect the entire team. Great coverage leads to pressure which leads to turnovers which leads to great field position and more points for your offense. It's also important to note that without Ryan Clady (Tier 1), Denver's protections couldn't hold up well enough for Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker to make plays.

Bottom line, there is so much that needs to be in place for the receiver position to be a CHAMPIONSHIP position. Addressing receiver before other holes is like watering the leaves before the roots. No disaster illustrates that point better than when Matt Millen decided to draft wide receivers in the first round of three consecutive drafts. That stroke of roster-building genius helped lead the Lions to the only non-expansion 0-16 season in league history.

I'm not saying you can trot out anybody at the position. I don't believe it's a dime-a-dozen position as Tom Donahoe used to refer to it. The dynasty teams of the 70's weren't going to win championships with the likes of guys like Courtney Hawkins and Will Blackwell. Certainly, Hall of Famers such as Lynn Swann and John Stallworth more than helped the cause. But there are more guys who have speed , can create separation, and catch a ball then there are elite QBs, dominant pass-rushers, lockdown corners, and stonewall pass protectors.

The only receiver I've ever seen make a championship type of impact as a rookie was Randy Moss. He was 6-4 with 4.2 speed and tremendous ball skills. None of these big wide receivers in this draft are going to run by anyone virtually at will as Moss did. But even Randy Moss didn't win a super Bowl.

If there's any cornerback that the organization feels can press and lock down his man, then he should be rated higher than any receiver in this draft.

I believe there are three guys that show definite lockdown press potential in Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller, and Justin Gilbert. If one of the offensive tackles can return the Steelers to being a dominant group, or a defensive lineman can return the Steelers to being a dominant run-stuffing unit, they also should be first-round priorities over receiver. If all those options are gone by pick 15, only then should the Steelers be looking to address receiver in the first round. They will have plenty of options to find a championship-team type of contributor there in the second.


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