In JuJu-Smith Schuster, James Washington and Diontae Johnson, the Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the youngest wide receiving trios in the NFL.
If the organization follows through on its intention of grabbing another playmaker on the second day of the NFL Draft, that group could get even younger and become a quartet in 2020.
Although the Steelers have used a second- or third-round pick on a pass catcher in each of the past three drafts, they want to upgrade what was one of the NFL’s worst offenses last season and could take a receiver with the No. 49 or No. 102 overall choice.
Of the three starters on an offense that averaged 18.1 points, which ranked No. 27 in the league — minus franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for much of the year — Washington is the oldest at 24. He is entering his third season. Johnson, coming off his rookie season, will turn 24 in July. Smith-Schuster, despite heading into his fourth NFL season, is the youngest. He won’t turn 24 until November.
With Smith-Schuster’s rookie contract set to expire after the season, the draft will provide a chance for the Steelers to replenish the position in case they don’t sign him to an extension.
The good news for the Steelers is the wide receiver crop is filled with quality as well as quantity. Draft analysts expect more than two dozen receivers to be taken before the third round is complete.
Among the prospects who could be on the board when the Steelers phone in their pick at No. 49 is former TCU receiver Jalen Reagor. At 5-foot-11, he would fit in size-wise with the 6-1 Smith-Schuster, 5-11 Washington and 5-10 Johnson. Reagor had a formal meeting with the Steelers at the NFL Combine, where he weighed in at 206 pounds but ran a slower-than-advertised 4.47 40-yard dash.
Not content with that performance, Reagor shaved almost 10 pounds off his frame and claimed to run a sub-4.3 40 in an individual pro day he videotaped for NFL teams. That was more in line with the elusive running style he displayed in three college seasons.
“At TCU, he became a guy who you looked at and viewed as a fear factor player,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper junior said recently. “I like the compact frame. I love his speed and his athleticism. To me, he’s a second-round pick who is going to play and play a long time in this league and be highly productive.”
In other years, Reagor might have merited a first-round selection and a heftier signing bonus. Given the depth of the receiver class, he is among a handful of prospects who should be available in the middle of the second round.
Kiper has seven receivers being targeted in the first round, and ESPN colleague Daniel Jeremiah has eight wideouts listed among his top 50 prospects. Reagor is not among them, which isn’t a knock on the TCU junior.
“I think one of the things people are trying to find in this draft is your version of Tyreek Hill,” Jeremiah said. “He’s not as fast as Tyreek Hill, but he’s going to run in the 4.3s, and he can take the top off coverage. You can use him on jet sweeps, get the ball to him in the flat and just let him go. He can play over the top. The knock on him, he’s got a good number of drops, so he’s got to clean that up.”
Reagor’s best season was his sophomore year when he caught 72 passes for 1,061 yards and nine touchdowns. He also averaged 13 yards and scored two touchdowns on 13 rushing attempts.
In 2019, playing for a team that finished 5-7, Reagor’s production dipped to 43 catches for 611 yards and five scores, although he scored two touchdowns and averaged 20.8 yards on 15 punt returns.
“It was surprising,” Reagor said about his drop in receiving numbers. “But I felt like it was time to show my real character and show that I can lead without the ball, lead without getting the ball 12 times a game.”
Reagor is among a group of second-round possibilities for the Steelers that includes Penn State’s K.J. Hamler, USC’s Michael Pittman, Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk and Florida’s Van Jefferson.
“People may look at my size and think maybe I can’t (do it all) or my wingspan or my catch radius,” Reagor said, “but I feel like I can do everything as good as everybody else.”
After finishing with the fewest pass plays of 20-plus yards in 2019, the Steelers are in the market for a receiver who can extend the field when Roethlisberger returns from right elbow surgery. Reagor believes he fits the bill.
“I’m a big play waiting to happen,” Reagor said. “I can separate at will, get off press coverage, and I can make an immediate impact.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
Sports | Steelers/NFL