Perhaps Ben Roethlisberger is on to something when he expresses his desire for a tall wide receiver.
Eight of the NFL’s top 10 in receiving yards in 2013 stood at least 6’3″. Antonio Brown and DeSean Jackson, both 5’10″, were the only exceptions.
Of the 13 players who caught at least 10 touchdown passes in 2013, including tight ends, nine measured at least 6’3″. Erstwhile Steeler Jerricho Cotchery (6’1″) was among the outliers in that group. Eight of those players helped their teams reach the playoffs.
The pass-happy NFL is becoming increasingly height-happy when it comes to receivers. Tall receivers are no longer a luxury. A towering target isn’t something that Roethlisberger wants, it’s something he needs.
According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers have told Roethlisberger that they plan to select a tall receiver in the early rounds of the 2014 NFL draft.
There’s plenty of height in this deep wide receiver class. In our previous Steelers mock draft, we had them taking Donte Moncrief of Mississippi in the second round. He doesn’t make this list, however, because he’s a stumpy 6’2″. Based on the aforementioned statistical breakdown of NFL receivers, 6’3″ seems to be where the “You Must Be This Tall to Ride” line is drawn as NFL offenses evolve.
Yes, Justin Brown (6’3″) was drafted last year and spent 2013 on the practice squad, and Derek Moye (6’5″) dressed for seven games last season. But the Steelers are looking for an early-round stud who can be more Plaxico Burress than Limas Sweed.
Here’s a look at the top pass-catching prospects who stand at least 6’3″, ranked in order of where they should be on the Steelers’ big board.
No. 1: Mike Evans, Texans A&M, So.
(6’4 3/4″, 231 pounds)
Catching passes from Johnny Manziel, who can move around and extend plays, Evans is well-trained in getting open for a quarterback like Roethlisberger. His combine performance cemented his status as a top-10 pick, so the Steelers won’t get him at No. 15. It wouldn’t be wise to trade up for him, because that would cost picks in later rounds. In a draft this deep, it’s better to accumulate picks than give them up to get one player.
No. 2: Allen Robinson, Penn State, Jr.
(6’3″, 220 pounds)
Robinson caught 174 passes for 2,445 yards in 2012 and 2013 combined. That’s third in Big Ten history in a two-season span, according to NFL Draft Scout. If he’s available in the second round, Robinson would be a good value for the Steelers with the 46th pick. He’s a physical receiver who can pick up yards after the catch and he keeps the replay officials busy scooping balls inches off the ground.
No. 3: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt, Sr.
(6’3″, 212 pounds)
Matthews is the top-rated senior in this wide receiver class and should be on the Steelers’ second-round radar. He’s the SEC’s all-time leader in receptions with 232 and receiving yards with 3,759. Matthews doesn’t have elite speed and he’s not the most physical receiver, but he’s a polished route runner. A cousin of Jerry Rice, Matthews is a safe pick who could be a productive possession receiver at the next level.
No. 4: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech, Jr.
(6’5″, 265 pounds)
The Steelers don’t necessarily have to draft a receiver as the tall target for Roethlisberger. In a lackluster draft for tight ends, Amaro should be atop the Steelers’ board at the position. He was seventh in the nation with 106 receptions in 2013, catching exactly nine passes in five straight games. It would be too early to take Amaro at No. 15, but he might not last until No. 46. If the Steelers want to draft Amaro without reaching, they’ll have to trade down to a late-first round pick. That way they’d get Amaro and have an extra pick or two later in the draft. Amaro has the size as a tight end to be a physical freak like Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham.
No. 5: Eric Ebron, North Carolina, Jr.
(6’4″, 250 pounds)
Ebron is the top-rated overall tight end in the class and probably will be off the board by the time the Steelers pick in the first round. Even if he is there at No. 15, the Steelers should pass on him. He doesn’t have prototypical tight end size for today’s NFL and looks more like a receiver. He’s another guy the Steelers should draft only if they can trade down in the first round and pick up additional picks later in the draft. If they really want a tight end in the early rounds, they can wait for Amaro on Day 2.
No. 6: Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State, So.
(6’5″, 240 pounds)
Benjamin generated a lot of buzz with his game-winning touchdown catch in the national championship game against Auburn. He led the SEC with 15 touchdown catches in 2013, including seven in the red zone. However, he drops a lot of balls and NFL.com senior draft analyst Gil Brandt reported that he missed a workout with an NFL coach because he was tired. The Steelers should use the No. 15 pick, their highest in the draft since 2007, on a better player than Benjamin. Before Brandt’s report came out, he seemed like a late-first round prospect who would be gone by the time the Steelers picked at No. 46. Now, he could tumble deep into the second round. Even if he’s there at 46, his work ethic needs to be scrutinized before the Steelers write his name on the card.
No. 7: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington, Jr.
(6’6″, 262 pounds)
A second-round caliber tight end, Jenkins’ best season came in 2012 when he caught 69 passes for seven touchdowns. His reception total fell to 36 in 2013, but he caught eight touchdowns. Seferian-Jenkins hasn’t been able to work out this spring because of a stress fracture that was detected at the combine, but he’s expected to make a full recovery.
No. 8: Martavis Bryant, Clemson, Jr.
(6’4″, 211 pounds)
Bryant caught just 42 passes in 2013 partly because most of the balls went to teammate Sammy Watkins, the top overall receiver in the class. Bryant doesn’t have the best catching technique and drops a lot of passes, including four against Georgia. He’s too risky a pick to be chosen in the second round. The Steelers traded their original third-round pick to the Browns last year, but have a compensatory pick at No. 97. If Bryant falls that far, that’s where the Steelers can get him for the proper value.
No. 9: Cody Latimer, Indiana, Jr.
(6’3″, 215 pounds)
If the vagaries of the draft leave the Steelers without a receiver in the early rounds, Latimer is a player they can look at in the fourth or fifth round. He caught 72 passes for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013, averaging 15.2 yards per reception. He beat Darqueze Dennard, a cornerback almost certain to go in the first round, for a 3-yard touchdown pass at Michigan State.
No. 10: Devin Street, Pittsburgh, Sr.
(6’3″, 198 pounds)
Street’s adjustment to the NFL would be eased somewhat if the Steelers draft him. He’d be playing in the same home stadium. Street is probably a more solid 6’3″ than Latimer, who is listed as 6’2″ on NFL.com. But Street doesn’t have Latimer’s bulk, isn’t quite as explosive after the catch and isn’t as good a blocker. Street is a four-year starter with 202 career receptions, but he might have topped out. Street is the safer pick, but Latimer appears to have a little more upside.