- Scott Brown, ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter
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PITTSBURGH -- ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay don’t always agree when evaluating draft-eligible players. But their thinking falls along the same lines when it comes to Steelers fourth-round draft pick Martavis Bryant.
Kiper listed the former Clemson wide receiver as one five offensive players drafted in the later rounds who could make an immediate impact in the NFL. McShay also said that Bryant has a chance to contribute early for the Steelers.
“He does a really nice job of getting off the line and he’s a vertical route runner,” McShay said. “You’ve got a big, strong-armed quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger and you want a guy that can stretch the field vertically. There’s some boom or bust there, but when you get him in the fourth round you’re not worried so much about the risk factor. If he focuses and does all the right things he could wind up being a real steal from this class.”
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Bryant gives the Steelers the tall wide receiver that the offense has lacked. His 40-yard dash time (4.42 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine as well as his career yards per catch (22.2) at Clemson validate his potential as a big-time deep threat.
And he started only one season at Clemson where first-round picks DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins overshadowed Bryant, meaning he is far from a finished product -- something that should excite the Steelers’ coaches as well as challenge them.
“He’s what I have been hunting,” Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann said. “Probably had he played more [at Clemson], stayed for another year, he would have been a first-rounder for sure. I think all that he needs to learn we will teach it to him.”
Bryant slipped to the fourth round of the draft because of concerns about his maturity as well as his inconsistency as a pass-catcher. The Steelers hosted Bryant for a pre-draft visit and were comfortable enough after what they heard from him to think that he will be fine in the right environment.
As for the drops he had in college, Mann said that is something that can be easily corrected and can probably be traced to Bryant’s hand placement or his trying to run before securing a catch.
“He does a really good job of tracking the ball and catching it over the top,” Mann said. “A lot of times guys can’t do it and it’s very hard to teach.”
McShay agreed that Bryant’s ball skills are undeniable.
“He was inconsistent catching the ball but he also makes tough catches,” McShay said, “and he can adjust to the ball below his waist, over his head, behind his body.”
It is way too premature to get overly excited about Bryant, who takes part in the Steelers' three-day rookie minicamp that starts on Friday.
Fred Gibson, the last physically gifted wide receiver that the Steelers drafted in the fourth round (2005), didn’t even make it out of training camp. And for all of the buzz created by the second-round selection of Limas Sweed in 2008, the former Texas standout caught just seven career passes for the Steelers.
Chronic drops were one of the reasons why the Steelers released Sweed in 2011.
One thing that Mann won’t do is speculate on how big of a role Bryant will have in the Steelers’ offense as a rookie. But he also won’t rule out Bryant challenging for the starting job opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.
“You have to come in and work because we have other guys in the room,” Mann said. “Potentially he will be a starter, you just never know. You play the best. That’s how you win.”