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Steelers Draft '17: Wide Receivers

Kick returners are always welcome, but the Steelers primarily need red-zone help out of this year's receiving crop.

In his annual January draft prediction, Steelers president Art Rooney II called for an improved pass rush with the addendum of making sure the defense becomes more consistent against the run.

There was another addendum. Let's call it The Playoff Addendum.

"Obviously in the playoffs, we need to be better in the red zone," said Rooney. 

The Steelers finished 16th in the NFL in red-zone offense with a TD-conversion rate of 54 percent. They were a mere 30 percent in their final three regular-season games and 1 for 7 in their last two playoff games. With another yard they would've been 1 for 8, but a fifth failure at Kansas City occurred from the 20-yard line (red zone = inside 20).

We shouldn't have been surprised by the mediocre performance because, according to research done by the Post-Gazette's Ray Fittipaldo, the Steelers haven't finished in the top 10 in red-zone efficiency since 2007, and only twice (2005 the other) in Ben Roethlisberger's 13 seasons.

Perhaps Rooney's addendum will force introspection by the coaching staff, and perhaps the return of Martavis Bryant and Ladarius Green will help. The Steelers are also looking at big, quality, combat pass-catchers this draft season who would no doubt help Roethlisberger turn more field goals into touchdowns in 2017. 

It's been mainly an upper middle-round group, so let's rule out the elite receivers such as Corey Davis, Mike Williams, John Ross and Taywan Taylor and take a closer look at a group of potential third to fourth-rounders whose style, position and temperament fit Steelers' needs:

* Carlos Henderson (5-11, 199, 4.46) -- Unlikely to fall from the second round, but the Steelers should be ready in case. Henderson is an explosive threat as both a receiver and kickoff returner. Averages of 19.6 per catch, 8.1 per rush and 32.2 per kickoff return at Louisiana Tech say he won't last until pick 94, but he is a bit raw.

* Josh Reynolds (6-3, 194, 4.52) -- Tall jumping jack of a red-zone threat who can also stretch the field as an outside receiver and has made several highlight-reel catches in traffic after transferring to Texas A&M out of junior college. Didn't bench at the Combine because of a shoulder injury, and that may be why the Steelers had him in for a visit.

* Zay Jones (6-2, 201, 4.45) -- Not only the all-time record holder at East Carolina, but all of Division I football with 399 career receptions. Flashed tremendous red-zone skills at the Senior Bowl and followed it up with an outstanding Combine.

* Chris Godwin (6-1, 209, 4.42) -- His performance for Penn State in the Rose Bowl wasn't a surprise. Strong, explosive, sure-handed Godwin has 22 catches for 460 yards (20.9) and 3 touchdowns in three bowl games. Always seems to come out of traffic with the ball.

Even with Bryant expected back, those players might just be too good to pass up. But each one could, and probably should, be grabbed by other teams earlier than the Steelers' turn in the third-round. But that's the beauty of a draft that's being hailed for having "100 top-60 players" and one could slip.

If not, there are a number of later-round receivers who would make interesting projects for one reason or another:

* Kenny Golladay (6-4, 218, 4.50) -- Based on size, production at Northern Illinois and Combine numbers, this raw receiver probably won't get out of the fourth round.

* Shelton Gibson (5-10 3/4, 191, 4.39) -- Speed merchant from WVU improved his disappointing 4.5 Combine time to be more like Mike, Mike Wallace, his favorite player.

* Jehu Chesson (6-1 3/4, 204, 4.47) -- Long-armed jumping jack with outstanding agility times, he slipped to the No. 2 WR at Michigan after a knee injury late in 2015. Could recover and become a late-round gem.

* Mack Hollins (6-4, 221, 4.53) -- Quad pull during his Combine 40 punctuated an injury-plagued senior year for North Carolina's four-time special teams captain. Think Darrius Heyward-Bey without the elite speed but with better hands.

* Artavis Scott (5-10, 193, 4.61) -- Productive Clemson slot/return man had a disappointing Combine and is known for an explosive temper, but a late-round drop might provide an attitude adjustment.

* Bug Howard (6-4, 221, 4.58) -- Long 33-inch arms, huge 10 1/2-inch hands, and a 37 1/2-inch vertical make this UNC late-rounder a niche red-zone star.

* Jerome Lane (6-2 1/2, 226, 4.6) -- The son of the legendary Pitt basketball player makes the list due to his reputation as a receiver with a "mean streak" after being moved from defense at Akron. Given his 6-6 father's amazing rebounding skills, the son is worth a shot.


I ruled out my favorite slot/return specialist, Ryan Switzer, because the Steelers already have a couple of them in Eli Rogers and Demarcus Ayers. But bigger slot receivers such as Zay Jones and Chris Godwin, who can help in the red zone and one day start outside, deserve to be targets at the bottom of the third round. If unavailable, take a defensive back and look a project in the late rounds.


Third Round -- Zay Jones, East Carolina; Chris Godwin, Penn State.

Fourth Round -- Kenny Golladay, Northern Illinois.

Fifth Round -- Jehu Chesson, Michigan.

Sixth Round -- Bug Howard, North Carolina; Jerome Lane, Akron.

Also: Read about our featured wide receiver, Zay Jones, The Zay Hey Kid.

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