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Russell Wilson’s Weapons: Past and Present

This coming season, there is a new quarterback in town in Russell Wilson. A talented and experienced veteran, Wilson has been to two Super Bowls and won one with the Seattle Seahawks. Arguably just one goal-line play call separated Wilson from hoisting a second Lombardi trophy back in Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots. Prior to being signed by the Steelers this offseason, Russ spent the past two seasons with the Denver Broncos. Throughout his time in the league, Wilson has worked with a laundry list of talented teammates and helped to showcase their talents. Looking ahead to 2024, can looking at Wilson’s past weapons help predict who his go-to targets might be this upcoming season?

Wilson has a long history of working with talented and productive slot receivers. One that comes to mind very quickly is Tyler Lockett. Lockett, a 3rd-round pick in 2015 of the Seattle Seahawks, standing 5’10”, 182lbs, ran a 4.40s 40-yard dash at the combine. Over the seven seasons that Wilson and Lockett worked together, Lockett averaged the following per season: 63 receptions, 866 yards, 6 touchdowns. His best numbers during that time came in 2020, when he set a franchise record 100 receptions in a single season for 1,054 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Lockett is versatile in that he can line up on the outside, but he is often worked in the slot. His talents allow for him to be utilized for everything from wide receiver screens to catches over the middle to catches down the sideline. He gets many targets on drags and crossing routes in which his yards-after-catch ability is on full display. Although larger targets are traditionally thought of as being red zone targets, Lockett was called upon in the red zone with Russell Wilson at the helm.

Tyler Lockett catches a pass against the San Francisco 49ers in December 2023. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Players similar to Lockett in their physical build and skillset include Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate. Both of these men were productive in the slot during their tenure with Wilson in Seattle.

Glancing at the 2024 Steelers roster, rookie Roman Wilson is perhaps the most similar to Lockett in terms of size and speed. Wilson, drafted in the 3rd round of this year’s draft, stands 5’11”, 185 lbs, and ran a 4.39s 40-yard dash. According to his draft profile, he is predicted to line up in the slot and is sure-handed with good speed and yards-after-catch ability. However, his route running could use improvement, and he was known more for intermediate and deep routes in college as opposed to short routes.

While Wilson’s build and skillset may prove very useful in the slot, if he performs well early, he very well could line up as WR2. This is due to the current state of the wide receiver room, in which George Pickens and Van Jefferson are the only two men who are taller than Wilson.

Dec 23, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Calvin Austin III scores a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Other receivers that may play in the slot this season include Calvin Austin III and Scotty Miller. Calvin Austin III, a 4th round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022, stands 5’9″, 162lbs, and had a 4.32s 40-yard dash time. He unfortunately was out for his rookie season due to injury, but he did see the field in 2023. Incredibly quick, Austin III saw the field both at receiver and during returns on special teams. He totaled 17 catches for 180 yards and 1 touchdown as a receiver. Perhaps this year he will have a more involved role in the offense and see more targets.

Scotty Miller, signed this offseason, is a 5’9″, 174lb receiver with experience playing in the slot. His best season came in 2020 during his time with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He does have experience working with new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, and such experience and trust between the two men may lead to Scotty Miller seeing the field fairly often this coming season.

Moving on from the category of slot receivers, Russell Wilson has had the opportunity to work with several talented receivers who primarily played outside the numbers as well. Such a conversation would not be complete without the mentioning of DK Metcalf. A 2nd round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, standing 6’4″, 235 lbs, and running a 4.33s 40-yard dash, Metcalf is a once-in-a-generation athlete with elite size, strength and speed. Seattle utilizes his skillset in a variety of ways, although he typically lines up outside the numbers. He possesses the strength and size for 50/50 balls to be thrown his way, and he is able to make contested catches. In the three years spent with Russell Wilson, Metcalf averaged 72 receptions, 1,056 yards, and 9.6 touchdowns per season.

While in Denver, Wilson had the privilege of throwing to Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, two other talented receivers who were productive with #3 at the helm. Sutton, a 2nd round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2018, stands 6’4″, 218lbs, and ran a 4.54 sec 40-yard dash. Sutton is a big-bodied target that typically lines outside the numbers, and he played WR2 last season with Jerry Jeudy as the first option in Denver’s offense. Over 2 years with Russell Wilson, Sutton averaged 61.5 receptions, 800 yards, and 6 touchdowns per season. He caught 10 touchdowns during the 2023 season alone.

Jerry Jeudy, standing 6’1″, 193lbs, and running a 4.45 sec 40-yard dash, is another larger-bodied receiver lining up outside the numbers the majority of the time. He was listed as WR1 last season in Denver. During Wilson’s 2-year tenure with the team, Jeudy averaged 60.5 receptions, 865 yards, and 4 touchdowns per season.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens (14) goes up for on of his five catches against the Bills.

Comparing Metcalf, Sutton, and Jeudy to the Steelers current roster, George Pickens stands out. Pickens, a 2nd round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022, needs no introduction for Steelers fans. At 6’3″, 200lbs, running a 4.45 sec 40-yard dash, he has a gift for making challenging catches look easy. With subpar quarterback play through his first two seasons, Pickens still was able to break the 1,000-yard mark during 2023. This season, with a revamped offensive line, likely improved quarterback play, and a presumptive shift from WR2 to WR1 following the Diontae Johnson trade, Pickens is poised for a breakout year. Although more similar to Sutton and Jeudy in size and speed, Pickens could very well become a household name at receiver similar to Metcalf. Pickens will likely line up on the outside the majority of the time, but he does have the talent to be utilized all over the field should he be called upon.

At this point late in Wilson’s career, when comparing tight ends, one must consider the changing role of the tight end in the NFL over the past 10-15 years. Today, tight ends are asked to catch the ball more than they once did, and so comparing statistics can prove difficult. With this in mind, notable tight ends that Wilson has played with during his career include Zach Miller and Jimmy Graham.

Zach Miller played four of his eight seasons (2011-2014) in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, and he played three of them with Wilson (2012-2014). Miller compiled averages of 25 receptions, 286 yards, and 2.7 touchdowns per season over the course of those three years. It should be noted that Miller played only 3 games in 2014 due to injury, and therefore he was much more productive in the previous two seasons with Wilson. Although he made the Pro Bowl just one time during his career, Miller was a solid starting TE in the NFL.

Dec 24, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham (88) and quarterback Russell Wilson (3) celebrate a touchdown in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Graham, the highly talented former college basketball player, was a premier tight end for the New Orleans Saints and, later, the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, and Chicago Bears. Graham was known for his size, as he stood 6’7″, and his athleticism. His basketball background proved priceless in the red zone; the years he spent “boxing out” on the court helped him to later create separation from defenders in the end zone. He was a dangerous receiving threat utilized by all quarterbacks he played with, and during his three years in Seattle with Wilson (2015-2017), Graham averaged 57 receptions, 683 yards, and 6 touchdowns per season.

In 2024, the Steelers have Pat Freiermuth as the presumptive starting tight end on the roster. A second-round pick of the Steelers in 2021, Freiermuth has proven to be a talented and dependable target in his first three years in the league. A stronger receiver than blocker, Freiermuth has averaged 52 receptions, 512 yards, and 3.7 touchdowns per season. His production was decreased in 2023, as he was only healthy for 12 regular season games. Looking forward to 2024, Freiermuth is likely to again be a dependable target, this time for Russell Wilson. Given his size, standing 6’5″ and 258lbs, Freiermuth could be called upon more often in the red zone, especially considering the average size of the wide receivers on the current Steelers roster. Production more similar to Jimmy Graham’s averages with Wilson are a realistic expectation for Freiermuth this season. However, Graham is the better athlete; although Freiermuth is skilled, the statistics will be comparable due to the changes in offensive strategy of today’s NFL.

Nov 12, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Connor Heyward (83) picks up 13 yards against the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Connor Heyward, younger brother of Cameron Heyward, will be intriguing to watch this season. Connor Heyward stands 6’0″, 230lbs. Although his speed is not elite (4.72 sec 40-yard dash), Heyward is highly versatile and is purely a football player. His versatility is similar to that of Julian Edelman. While Edelman had more experience at the quarterback and wide receiver positions, both men are playmakers on the field wherever and whenever they are called upon, and both happened to be 6th round picks. During high school and college, Heyward saw time at the running back position, the fullback position, and as a kick returner. He also displayed good hands when the ball was thrown his way. Heyward was listed at the combine as a tight end and was drafted at that position as well by Pittsburgh in 2022. Looking ahead to 2024, it will be interesting to see how Arthur Smith plans to use him. His surehandedness may also lead to increased targets from his new quarterback.

Wilson has highlighted the talents of plenty of his teammates in the past. Although he has a new home, new weapons, and a new offensive coordinator this season, 2024 should be no different.




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