By Jeremy Hritz
The Steelers are stacked at the wide receiver position, with talent across the board, in addition to beyond-adequate depth. While there is not a true burner in the group who can consistently de-top a secondary, the varied skill sets of the receivers commingle to present an assortment of challenges to any NFL defense. Following the 2021 season, there will be some holes, as Juju Smith-Schuster and James Washington will become free agents and may not be re-signed. This will force the Steelers to make the WR position a priority in next years draft or free agency.
This year, the Steelers did not draft a wide receiver, the closest thing being TE Pat Freiermuth out of Penn State; however, they did sign two undrafted rookie free agents at the WR position, and today we take a look at Hawaii’s Rico Bussey, an intriguing prospect who fits the glowing strength/red flag dilemma Andrew and I discussed in last week’s podcast.
At 6, 186, Bussey is a modestly-sized wide receiver, and he possesses solid straight-line speed, as evidenced by his 4.5 40-yard dash time. He has shown the ability to stress defenses deep for long balls, but following an injury in 2019, he did not flash the same gusto he did in 2018. This inconsistency reveals the question regarding Bussey: can he regain his 2018 form and continue to grow in the NFL, or has the injury stifled his development and chances at becoming a professional wide receiver? If he can reclaim his vertical threat, he can satisfy a need for the Steelers and potentially have a shot at the practice squad, or, if productive enough, he could push Ray Ray McCloud.
Bussey’s best season came in 2018 at North Texas, when he caught 68 balls for 1017 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 15 yards per catch. After 2018, Bussey tore his ACL, and his production and play quality declined. You have to wonder how his career would have been different had he not experienced his injury and if the production would have continued. If that were the case, he would not have been an UDRFA, and would have been at least a 4th or 5th round draft pick.
Heading into the draft this past April, scouts were high on his explosiveness in stretching defenses, but were concerned by the impact of his injury and suspect hands. Knowing how the Steelers value combat catchers and the team’s issues with drops last season, if Bussey cannot improve in this area, he won’t have a legitimate opportunity to stick. But keep in mind, the Steelers are Wide Receiver U and they know talent, and through their coaching and support, they can grow quality receivers. If Bussey truly does have what it takes, he is in the right place.
The Steelers are a year away from having significant work to do in replenishing the WR room. If they can sneakily score a win through Bussey, it will go a long way in shoring up a position that will more than likely be weakened in free agency in 2022.