Dec 8, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (88) returns a kick-off against the Miami Dolphins during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Miami Dolphins won 34-28. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers: Major decisions upcoming at wide receiver position

Rightfully so, most of the major decisions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason will be on the defensive side of the ball, but on the offensive side there will be some decisions at the wide receiver position.

Both Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are entering free agency and Kevin Colbert will be faced with a couple of tough choices.

Dec 8, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (89) runs after a pass reception as Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon (50) pursues during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Dolphins won 34-28. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s unlikely Colbert can retain both, so which direction should he head?

First, there is the frustrating Sanders, who is only 26. Sanders has the tools, but never really seems to get much better. That’s not to say he is a terrible option or even a bad receiver, but his route running isn’t great and he has never really mastered being able to adjust when the ball is in the air.

Stepping in for Mike Wallace, Sanders was expected to deliver big things and he went on record as promising a big season, but he didn’t deliver. He fell 260 yards short of a 1,000-yard season and while he did make some plays along the way, Sanders also left a ton on the field.

Personally, I like Sanders as my third option, but not my second.

However the biggest factor is the fact that Sanders will be overvalued on the open market.

The New England Patriots signed Sanders to an offer sheet last offseason and were willing to part with a third-round pick for his services. Judging by the fact that the Steelers missed the playoffs once again in 2013, I bet they wish they had that pick instead of matching Sanders offer.

Unlike last season though, the Steelers won’t be able to match when Sanders gets overpaid this offseason.

Cotchery is a different story, as the veteran exceeded expectations and proved to be a very reliable target, especially in the red zone where he caught 10 touchdowns.

At 31 years old, he will likely come at a more reasonable price than Sanders. With that being said, I think you will see Cotchery back for one or two more years and Sanders will be allowed to walk.

However, if that happens, the Steelers will have to find a legitimate No. 2 option to pair across from Antonio Brown.

Those guys aren’t cheap in free agency, and while I do expect the Steelers to sign a wide receiver, I wouldn’t expect it to be a top-flight one.

With that in mind, the only option internally is rookie Markus Wheaton and given the fact that he barely saw the field this season, a jump to being the No. 2 guy may be out of the question.

That brings me to the NFL Draft, where I expect the Steelers to go heavy on the defensive side of the ball, but would it be out of question to draft a receiver in the first or second round?

Judging by past history there is a possibility.

A guy like Texas A&M’s Mike Evans has already been linked to the Steelers early in the offseason. The 6-foot-5 burner has shown stretches of dominance in college. But to get a guy like Evans or Clemson’s Sammy Watkins the Steelers would have to do so in the first round.

There are other intriguing options such as USC’s Marqise Lee, Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin and Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong. To get one of these skilled wideouts who may be able to step in and play right away, it is going to have to be done in the first or second round.

That makes this offseason even more interesting as you know the Steelers are going to be focused on getting younger defensively.

But if the Steelers let Sanders walk, and I feel they will, they are going to have to be committed to getting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger another weapon.


Tags: Emmanuel Sanders Jerricho Cotchery Mike Evans Pittsburgh Steelers

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