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Friday, February 7, 2014
MVP replacements: Pittsburgh Steelers

By Scott Brown

Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Antonio Brown's teammates voted him Steelers MVP for the second time since 2013 after he authored the greatest season by a wide receiver in franchise history.

But let’s be honest here: Ben Roethlisberger is the player the Steelers can least afford to lose, and it’s not even close.

That’s not a knock on Brown as much as it a nod to how important the quarterback position is in the pass-centric NFL.

Roethlisberger is locked up for two more seasons, and team president Art Rooney II has said the Steelers will sign their franchise quarterback to a new contract at some point -- one that will allow him to play his entire career in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers won’t look toward the NFL draft or free agency to add Roethlisberger injury insurance, and it’s not because the 10th-year veteran played every snap in 2013.

They took care of Big Ben fallback plans last year when they signed Bruce Gradkowski, a veteran but one who is younger than previous backups Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch, and selected Oklahoma’s Landry Jones in the fourth round of the draft.

Drafting a wide receiver early, perhaps even with the 15th overall pick, makes sense for myriad reasons.

Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, the top two wide receivers after Brown, can become unrestricted free agents on March 11. A rangy wide receiver would offset the loss of Sanders and complement Brown and Markus Wheaton, another speedy but smaller wideout who will be the front-runner to start if Sanders signs elsewhere.

The big target that Roethlisberger has long coveted would provide a dimension that the Steelers’ offense has been lacking. Drafting an impact wide receiver could also go a long way toward preventing teams from using all manner of coverages to minimize Brown’s impact in the passing game next season.

Potential pick: Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
At 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, Bryant has a long and flexible frame with excellent top-end speed. He is at his best as vertical route-runner where he displays the ability to quickly eat up cushions and run by defenders. While he has his share of drops he also has a wide catch radius and range tracking the ball downfield. Bryant has a chance to be a steal in the mid-rounds if he finds the right system like the Steelers, where he can stretch the field to take advantage of Roethlisberger’s arm strength while taking some pressure off Antonio Bryant at the same time.

-- Kevin Weidl