Steelers Rookie WR Could Be Something Special

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson at No. 84, a spot that is far from indicative of his high potential.
Jan 8, 2024; Houston, TX, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Roman Wilson (1) against the Washington Huskies during the 2024 College Football Playoff national championship game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 8, 2024; Houston, TX, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Roman Wilson (1) against the Washington Huskies during the 2024 College Football Playoff national championship game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson was the Pittsburgh Steelers' third-round selection in the 2024 NFL Draft. It is widely known that the first three rounds of the draft holds what will likely be the players competing to contribute or make an impact, more often than not.

The Steelers have many prospects to be excited about, most notably first-round pick Troy Fautanu at tackle and second-round interior lineman Zach Frazier, and third-round steal Payton Wilson. But the chance that Roman Wilson could be the best rookie Steeler this season is very real.

George Pickens will again be the Steelers No. 1 wide receiver option, that is a no-brainer. Pickens is one of the best in the league. But in Wilson, the Steelers have a Day 1 plug-and-play starter in the slot receiver role.

Watching Wilson's tape at Michigan, it was clear that off-man or zone coverages were just about guaranteed Wilson first-downs.

At the pro level, where the nickel scheme is nearly a base defense and press-man is more commonplace than ever, Wilson won't have such uncontested looks. However, look at how he played against an Alabama defensive backfield filled with NFL talent, ran by defensive back-savant Nick Saban.

Wilson was arguably the X-factor for Michigan in the 2024 Rose Bowl, making clutch catches and plays downfield. Wilson had a PFF grade of 67.2. He caught four of five targets for an average of 18 yards per reception and one touchdown.

Last season, Wilson averaged 16.4 yards per reception on over 40 catches for 789 yards and 12 touchdowns. Throughout his four-year career in Ann Arbor, Wilson averaged 16 yards per reception on just over 100 receptions. He caught 20 touchdowns. A more receiver-friendly air attack would surely have given Wilson ballooned stats.

Wilson has traits that can't be coached. Despite his 5-foot-11, or 6-foot, depending on the source, Wilson has a frame built for bouncing off tackles. Said frame will get stronger in the league, too. His shiftiness alone could make him a yards after catch weapon. It is tough to hang with Wilson when his 40-time was 4.39, and as he showed at Michigan with signal-caller JJ McCarthy, he creates big-time separation when his quarterback extends the play.

The Steelers' two competing quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, both have the trait to extend plays.

The late, renowned Sports Illustrated football writer and genius Paul (Dr. Z) Zimmerman elaborated the idea of using speed the best: the fastest players play receiver or defensive back because the speed matters most when the ball is not in their hands, the ball only slows a player down. I.e., speed is best for getting open.

Wilson fell 42 spots below his PFF big board ranking of No. 42. Two reasons -- a stacked draft class both offensively and at the wide receiver position, and poor drafting teams.

PFF reasoned the former argument in a pre-draft report on Wilson:

"If this were a different receiver class, Wilson would be much higher on these rankings. He not only brings NFL-level speed but also NFL-level determination at the catch point and as a blocker. His tape shows a player coaches would love to have."

Something more abstract but worth noting is the environment from which Wilson has arrives from. A culture at Michigan that cultivated through and through winners and most importantly, pure football players. Look at cornerback Mike Sainristil, linebacker Junior Colson, interior defender Kris Jenkins, running back Blake Corum, McCarthy -- they ooze intangibles. Read the scouting reports.

Consider all of the tools and the proven results that show Wilson is capable. Factor in the situation he is landing in. The Steelers offense is equipped to make Wilson's life easy -- two mobile quarterbacks with playmaking ability, two proven running threats in Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, and a No. 1 receiver that relieves him of having to produce more than he is capable of early on.

Wilson has the potential to be something special with Pittsburgh, and the league should take notice.

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Michael France

MICHAEL FRANCE