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Pittsburgh Steelers: Are Martavis Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger Compatible?

Super Bowl-winning quarterback, 32, height-weight proportionate, seeks tall wide receiver who’s down to earth but has a high vertical leap. Must have amazing hands to fulfill my red zone fantasies. I like long walks along the Allegheny River, no-huddle offenses and clean pockets. I love to travel, especially to Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore. I work hard and play harder. No drugs. No games (except football games). Friends first, leading to LTR with a receiver who can put another ring on my finger.

Ever since their careers forced Ben Roethlisberger and Plaxico Burress apart in 2005, the Steelers quarterback has all but taken out a personal ad for a tall wide receiver.

He’s had a few relationships, but ultimately has had his heart broken every time.

Could Martavis Bryant be The One?

Bryant, a 6’4″, 211-pound junior from Clemson, is the third receiver 6’4″ or taller the Steelers have drafted since Burress signed with the New York Giants in 2005.

The Steelers wasted no time trying to replace the 6’5″ Burress’ height, drafting 6’4″ Fred Gibson of Georgia in the fourth round in 2005. No way it was going to work out. Roethlisberger was on the rebound after his breakup with Burress, and Gibson was cut in training camp.

Even without a receiver taller than 6’1″, the Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XL in 2005.

Although Gibson has been nothing more than a name buried deep in the Steelers’ media guide since then, he’s drawn more cyberspace searches since the Steelers drafted Bryant in the fourth round. He might be a character in the romance novel about Roethlisberger’s neverending search for a towering target, but Gibson doesn’t bear the infamy of the next tall receiver the Steelers drafted.

After the 2007 season, Roethliberger went public for the first time with his desire for a tall receiver, and Hines Ward got jealous. Roethlisberger never really was BFFs with his future Hall of Fame receiver.

The Steelers accommodated Roethlisberger by making Limas Sweed their second-round pick in 2008. Once again the Steelers won the Super Bowl the year after drafting a receiver 6’4″ or taller without much help from that receiver.

Sweed caught six passes in the regular season (just like Markus Wheaton last year) and two in the Steelers’ AFC championship game win over the Baltimore Ravens. But he caught only one pass the next season and tore his Achilles in the spring of 2010.

The University of Texas product tried to make a comeback in 2011 (how hard could it be to return to his six-reception prime), but the Steelers cut him before the season.

Roethlisberger hooked up with an old flame when Burress returned in 2012. But that was a short-term fling. Burress was 35 at the time and caught just three passes with a touchdown.

Big Ben remained forlorn until the Steelers chose Bryant with the 118th pick in the 2014 NFL draft. He shouldn’t be in any hurry to make a commitment, because Bryant has a lot in common with the beanstalks before him.

Like Gibson and Sweed, Bryant expected to be drafted earlier than he was. CBSSports.com graded him as a second- or third-rounder. In 2008, seven of eight mock drafts published in USA Today had Sweed going in the first round. His draft stock dropped because of a wrist injury, and according to Cold Hard Football Facts many draft analysts considered Sweed a “steal” in the second round.

Like Gibson and Sweed, Bryant never caught 50 passes in a collegiate season. In Bryant’s case, a lot of it had to do with being second-fiddle to Selfie, er, Sammy Watkins, who caught 101 passes in 2013 and was drafted fourth overall.

Mike Wallace never caught 50 passes in a season, either, but he had 101 receptions in his three years at Mississippi. Bryant had only 61 receptions in three years at Clemson. Wallace averaged 18.9 yards per reception in college. Bryant averaged 22.2. Wallace was called a one-trick pony. Bryant has been called a one-year wonder, although his career-high 42 receptions last season isn’t exactly wondrous.

Another caveat with Bryant is his hands. He dropped four passes in Clemson’s season-opening win over Georgia, but he did catch at least one pass in Clemson’s 12 remaining games.

In the second of those games, Bryant made a throat-slashing gesture after one of his two touchdown catches against North Carolina State. He faced team discipline for that act, which brought his maturity into question.

Theoretically, another year in college would have alleviated the maturity issues. But Bryant told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he entered the draft to support his two daughters and to take care of his mother.

While noble, from a football standpoint that’s not why a player should turn pro. If Bryant’s not ready for the NFL, he might not make the kind of money that can set up his family for life.

But if he is, then maybe he did the Steelers a favor by coming out early. Maybe Roethlisberger’s infatuation with big receivers prompted the Steelers to buy low on a guy who would have been a first-round pick if he stayed in school another year.

He does have a tantalizing upside. Four of Bryant’s seven touchdown catches last season came in the red zone, including two in Clemson’s 40-35 win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Bryant comes to a team that lost Jerricho Cotchery and his 10 red zone touchdown catches last season.

Bryant’s 4.42-second 40-yard dash was the fastest time among all receivers 6’4″ or taller at the NFL Scouting Combine. His 39-inch vertical leap was the highest among all receivers 6’3″ or taller. He benched 225 pounds 16 times. Only 10 of the 38 receivers who did the bench press at the combine had more reps.

Speaking of maturity, Roethlisberger was lacking in that department even after he won a Super Bowl. He seems more grown-up now, and perhaps he’s ready to take a young receiver under his wing in a way that he wouldn’t have been six years ago.

Bryant told the Post-Gazette that Roethlisberger called him about 10 minutes after he was drafted.

It was love at first sight.

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1 comment

  1. bob graff

    Sure seems like a winner to me until you realize this is the NFL, none of that crap means anything period . This team whether people want to admit it or not has under-gone a major over haul nothing is a given. Let’s see what these new guys can do.

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