The loss of Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall to free agency left the offense without game-breakers at wide receiver and running back. However, the Steelers may be better off without them.
Last season, the Steelers offense finished a disappointing 21st in total yardage and 22nd in points per game. Disappointing seasons by Wallace and Mendenhall were a major reason for this poor performance.
Rather than invest in either player, the Steelers decided to move in a different direction.
It all began with the selection of running back Le’Veon Bell in the second round.
The Steelers had Bell as their top-rated back in the draft (h/t Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). They hope that he can help improve the 26th-rated ground attack, which averaged only 96.1 yards per game last season.
Bell is capable of carrying the load while playing all three downs.
He is big at 6’1”, 230 pounds and runs with power. Despite his size, he has deceptive speed and can run between the tackles or get to the outside.
More importantly, Bell can block out of the backfield and has soft hands that will help him get onto the field early—potentially as the Week 1 starter.
LaRod Stephens-Howling will join Bell in the backfield trying to earn the job as third-down back.
While Bell can play all three downs, keeping the running backs fresh is important. Stephens-Howling is an ideal fit to play on passing downs.
These two will significantly upgrade the talent in the Steelers backfield and should help them improve the ground game.
While this goes against the grain as more teams try to improve their passing games, the Steelers could actually improve their passing game by running the ball better.
Ben Roethlisberger is terrific off of the play action, and the only way to establish this type of passing attack is by running the ball well.
But running the ball alone will not help the Steelers offense. That is why they selected Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown in the third and sixth round, respectively.
Brown may not be a contributor, possibly not even make the team as a rookie, but the same cannot be said for Wheaton. He figures to play a big role as a rookie.
Wheaton is a small, quick receiver in the mold of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders and will fit offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s scheme well. He is a strong route runner with excellent speed and can make plays happen after the ball is in his hands. These skills will translate well to the short passing game as either an inside or outside receiver.
But Wheaton can add even more because of his terrific deep speed. He may not be the pure burner that Wallace was for the Steelers, but he has the speed to pull away from defenders on deep patterns.
Unlike Bell, the Steelers will not need Wheaton to start right away. He may start the season fourth behind Brown, Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, but he should eventually move up to third on the depth chart.
However, will the Steelers' new additions to the offense be enough?
Based on what we saw last year, it will not take much to upgrade this offense.
As long as their young offensive line lives up to expectations, the new playmakers on offense will provide a nice boost for the offense.
Running behind a young, talented offensive line, Bell should be the back that can help the Steelers get back to effectively running the football, while Wheaton will add a dangerous weapon to the short passing attack.
It will take time for the new talent to acclimate to the system, but as soon as he does, the Steelers offense will be much improved.
All stats provided via NFL.com.