COMMENTARY | As the NFL becomes more of a passing league, wide receivers have become more of a focal point for opposing defenses. As a result, these receivers have become bigger names and landed some of the biggest deals in the sport.
One of those rather large deals was handed out this offseason for now-former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace. Wallace took a massive 5 year, $60 million deal to play for the Miami Dolphins and reportedly passed up on a $76 million deal from the Vikings.
Wallace's departure leaves a hole in the middle of the Steelers receiving corps. Over his first four seasons, the former third round pick hauled in an impressive 235 passes for over 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns. More importantly, Wallace averaged an astounding 17.2 YPC in his time in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers still have plenty of experience at the receiver position. Antonio Brown, who received a 5 year, $45 million extension with the team, will be the Steelers' go-to-guy going forward. Brown was on his way to another excellent campaign in 2012 after a breakout 2011, but injuries derailed his season, leading to only 787 yards.
Emmanuel Sanders will have to be the guy to step up this season. Sanders had his best season in 2012, but has yet to catch more than 44 passes in a single season. He's in the final year of his deal so if he wants to score himself a payday, he'll need to be at his best.
Pittsburgh will also use veterans Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery and rookies Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown in the passing game. Burress figures to be a red-zone target and could reach double-digit scores while Wheaton will be a downfield threat.
Another AFC North team that lost a major receiver was the world champion Baltimore Ravens. After being unable to reach a restructured deal with Anquan Boldin, Baltimore traded the playoff stud away to San Francisco. Torrey Smith is one of the fastest receivers in the game and will be Joe Flacco's top target in 2013. Baltimore will look for Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss to fill the void.
One of the division's more intriguing receiving corps comes out of Cincinnati. A.J. Green is one of the brightest stars in the business. He's topped 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and scored 18 career touchdowns. Guys like Andrew Hawkins, Mohammed Sanu, Marvin Jones and Brandon Tate make the Bengals' receiving unit one of the deepest in football.
The Cleveland Browns may not have the best receiving corps in the division, but it's certainly on the up and up. Josh Gordon proved to be a viable option for a sub-par quarterbacking crew in Cleveland. The team still has aspirations for the talented-yet-frustrating Greg Little and adding Davone Bess was a great move. Travis Benjamin has a shot to make some downfield plays on this team, as well.
2013 AFC North Wide Receiver Rankings
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals - Despite entering just his third season in the NFL, Green is the class of the AFC North receivers. He caught nearly 100 balls in 2012 for over 1,300 yards and is a true playmaker on the outside.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens - Smith was overshadowed a bit by Boldin in his first two years with the Ravens, but with Boldin out of the way, Smith should be top dog. Smith has show big-time ability and has had some major games. He has the potential to be the division's next Mike Wallace.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers - Brown is the best slot receiver in the division and is cut from the same cloth as guys like Wes Welker and Victor Cruz. The biggest question surrounding Brown is can he stay healthy enough to be an elite receiver?
Davone Bess, Cleveland Browns - One of the most underrated receivers in the league, mark my words, Bess will make an impact with Cleveland in 2013. Bess is a very good slot receiver but has never been given a shot at a featured role. With Josh Gordon out for the first two games of the season, Bess could make his mark early.
Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns - Gordon has as much potential as any receiver (aside from Green) in the division, but he needs to keep himself out of trouble. Gordon will serve a two-game suspension to start the year but his talent is undeniable. He led the Browns in every major receiving category and could be a big downfield target this season.
Pittsburgh didn't turn out well in the receiver rankings with Brown the only wide-out cracking the top five. He could easily push himself ahead of Smith, especially considering the report he and Ben Roethlisberger have, but he needs to stay healthy.
Emmanuel Sanders doesn't crack the list this year. Sanders is another receiver who hasn't been able to keep himself healthy and has never really held a featured role in the NFL. Sanders had a career year in 2012 and he'll need to step up in 2013.
Pittsburgh does have some depth behind their starters, however. Burress provides one of the best redzone targets (again, aside from Green) in the division. Markus Wheaton is only a rookie, but he can move down the field and if adapts well, we could be looking at the replacement for Wallace.
I'm not appalled by the Steelers receiving corps, but with that said, this unit lacks some real star power. Wallace provided one of the league's best downfield threats and with him gone, so is the threat. Todd Haley has one heck of a job ahead of him grooming this corps for success.
Dan Snyder has been covering the Steelers for over a year for outlets such as the Bleacher Report. Check out more of his work there or follow him on Twitter @dsnyder34. Also, stay tuned for more installments of "Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the AFC North".
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Antonio Brown
- Mike Wallace
- Plaxico Burress
- Markus Wheaton
- Justin Brown
- Emmanuel Sanders
- Josh Gordon
- Torrey Smith
- Baltimore Ravens
- Cleveland Browns
- Jerricho Cotchery
- Davone Bess