The Pittsburgh Steelers have recently been nicknamed, “The WR factory” for being able to seamlessly develop star wide receivers each season. In the past three seasons, receivers like, Antonio Brown, and Martavis Bryant have burst onto the scene with breakout years. The Steelers have a long history of great wide receivers, but they also have also had some busts. In the Roethlisberger era (2004- now), the Steelers have gone through their fair share of wide receivers. It is hard to criticize a team who has had so much success since Roethlisberger’s first season - two Super Bowls, three Super Bowl appearances, and four AFC Championship appearances in 12 seasons. The team has been consistently making the playoffs since his arrival. However, every good team has its share of bad players, and the Steelers are no exception, especially among their receiving options. In the 12 seasons since Big Ben joined the team, the Steelers have gone through many different receivers, some great and some not so great.
This list counts down the worst wide receivers to play for the Steelers since Big Ben joined the team in 2004. These are the worst receivers Roethlisberger has had to play with since becoming a Steeler.
Here are, the top 15 worst receivers Ben Roethlisberger has had to play with. Being that :
15 Matt Spaeth
Spaeth has spent his entire NFL career trying to best Heath Miller for the number 1 starting job at tight end. He has played for the Steelers for seven seasons, and each of those seasons, he has maintained the role of back up TE, nothing more. Spaeth spent four seasons with the Steelers, then, frustrated, he departed for Chicago and played two seasons with the Bears. Then Spaeth returned in 2013 and has been with Pittsburgh ever since. Except for the 2013 season, which he missed most of due to injury, Spaeth has never started less than five games as a Steeler in a single season, or play less than 12 games.
He has yet to accumulate more than 17 receptions or 136 yards receiving in a single season. He continues to strive to one day become the starting TE for Pittsburgh, but it doesn’t seem like that day will ever come.
13 David Johnson
Johnson played four seasons with Pittsburgh, and with Big Ben at quarterback. During those seasons, Johnson continually found himself underperforming, and under scrutiny by the organization and the media. Johnson played for the Steelers from 2009 - 2013, before departing to San Diego to play with the Chargers, where he has spent the past two seasons. In his time with Pittsburgh, Johnson only recorded more than 4 receptions once, and failed to record more than 100 yards receiving in any of his 4 seasons with the team.
In 2011, Johnson played and started every game for the Steelers, because Heath Miller was injured. It was Johnson’s opportunity to step into the limelight. However, in that season, he performed poorly. In 16 games, he had 12 receptions for 91 yards and 1 touchdown. Needless to say, Heath Miller's presence was missed by Big Ben.
13. LaRod Stephens-Howling
Stephens-Howling played only one season in Pittsburgh, coming over from Arizona in 2013. In his last two seasons in Arizona, Howling received acclaim for his running play and especially his receiving ability. When he moved from the desert to the steel city, expectations were high for Stephens-Howling. The Steelers organization and fans saw him as a “Darren Sproles” type of player; a back up running back who could compete for the number 1 spot on the roster and be a big threat in the passing game. However, Stepehens-Howling’s time in Pittsburgh was littered with injury and his performance suffered because of it. He played one game, and caught two passes for 11 yards. In his previous two seasons in Arizona, Howling had showed promise, but ultimately, his time in Pittsburgh was disappointing.
Following his disastrous season in Pittsburgh, Stephens-Howling decided to call it quits in his mid-20s.
12 Willie Reid
Willie Reid played two seasons in Pittsburgh, but only one with Big Ben at quarterback. During that year Reid saw his many high expectations fall flat to the ground, as he became a back up receiver on the Steelers depth chart. In his one year with Big Ben, Reid only managed to play six games in the season due to injury and other issues that took place off the field. In those six games, he caught 4 passes for 54 yards and no touchdowns, a stat line that many wouldn't be too proud of. On top of the bad stats, one of those caught passes turned into a lost fumble for the Steelers.
It's fair enough to say that Reid did not have a great experience with Big Ben and the Steelers. The once college hopeful, became nothing more than a no name player once he went pro and moved to Pittsburgh.
11 Antwaan Randle El
In his first two seasons with Ben Roethlisberger, Antwaan Randle El put up decent numbers, and fit perfectly into the spot of a back up wide receiver, as he was both athletic and professional. However, after two seasons, Randle El left to Washington for four seasons, only to return to Pittsburgh and play one final season. In his last season with the Steelers, Randle El was dismal at best. Blame old age or lack of commitment, but Randle El was a burden on the Steelers financially, as his performance on the field didn't match his pay.
In his last season, Randle El played all 16 games but had 22 receptions for 253 yards and no TD receptions, pretty bad numbers for a guy with a good career. It's fair to say that Randle El's first two seasons with Roethlisberger were successful, but when he returned, he was nowhere near the player he once was.
10 Emmanuel Sanders
Today, Emmanuel Sanders is regarded as one of the top receivers in the NFL, but that was not always the case. Before joining the Denver Broncos in 2014, Sanders was a member of the Steelers. However, he was not the superstar receiver he has now become on the Broncos. In his each of his two seasons in Denver, Sanders racked up 1,000 plus yards and 75-plus receptions, career-high numbers across the board. When he was with Pittsburgh, Sanders failed to register more than 750 yards or 70-plus receptions in a single season. In his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, Sanders failed to play more than 13 games, have over 30 receptions, put up more than 400 yards receiving, or score more than two touchdowns. During his years in Pittsburgh, Sanders was a 3rd or 4th place receiver at best. It's nice to see, since then he has developed immensely.
9 Nate Washington
Nate Washington played four seasons in Pittsburgh alongside Ben Roethlisberger, from 2005-2008. During those seasons, Washington underperformed and his dedication was often called into question as he never appeared to be fully committed to being a football player. Washington played all 32 games in his last 2 years when and Roethlisberger shared the field, and he was never plagued with injury. However, Washington failed to produce quality numbers with the Steelers, or more specifically, with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
In each of his last two seasons playing with Big Ben, Washington failed to rack up more than 40 receptions or 700 yards receiving, underwhelming numbers compared to the greatness of Big Ben. While he was with the Steelers, Washington was an average secondary receiver who underperformed throughout his tenure. Since leaving the Steelers, Washington found success with the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans, which included one 1,000 yard season.
8 Jacoby Jones
The sample size is small, but it is nonetheless noteworthy. Jacoby Jones was spiraling downwards when he moved from San Diego to Pittsburgh last season, though expectations of the former Baltimore Ravens star were high. When he joined the Steelers, Jones was supposed to fill the role of veteran receiver and perhaps instill some wise words and experience into the minds of the young Steelers receiving core. However, this was not the case. Jones only played four games for the Steelers last season, due to injury and poor performance. Jones, did not manage to even record a single stat, while playing for the team. Not one catch, yard gained, touchdown scored, nothing.
In the four games he played with Big Ben, not once was he thrown to. All Jones did was block, and as a receiver that's not at all what you would like to be doing all the time.
7 Lance Moore
Moore played one season with the black & gold in 2014, coming from New Orleans, which is where he had spent his entire career playing, winning a Super Bowl with Drew Brees as his quarterback. He came to Pittsburgh with expectations of making a major impact on the team and becoming a "Wes Welker" type receiver for Big Ben to throw to, as the two receivers were similar in size and skill. Being a smaller receiver gave Moore the opportunity to become a dangerous weapon for the Steelers offense, something they were lacking at the time.
However, this was not the case. Moore played 14 games with the Steelers, only managing to rack up 14 receptions, 198 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Not great for the once 1,000 yard receiver who not only did not manage to live up to the Steelers expectations, and Big Ben's, but perhaps his own as well.
6 Plaxico Burress
Plaxico Burress is now well known as the NFL player who shot himself in the leg with a gun, but before that, he was just known as a good receiver. Burress started out his career in Pittsburgh, playing five seasons before departing to New York to play with the Giants. In those five seasons, he played one along side Big Ben. In that season Burress' play was not up to par, in comparison to his previous seasons. He managed only 35 catches (almost half as much as season previous) and less than 700-plux yards receiving.
Burress played one more season with Ben when he returned to Pittsburgh in 2012, which would inevitably be his last season playing in the NFL. He only managed to play four games with the team, due to injury. In those four games, he caught 3 passes for 42 yards and 1 touchdown. Fair enough to say he was at the end of his career and was just looking to retire as a Steeler.
5 Darrius Heyward-Bey
Heyward-Bey found success in Oakland with the Raiders despite being considered by many as a first round draft pick bust as he played there for four seasons and had one 900+ yard season. However, that success could not be duplicated when Bey joined the Steelers in 2014. In his 2 seasons with the Steelers, Bey has managed to rack up 24 receptions and less than 400 yards total, low numbers for many wide receivers that have such great natural talent. Those are dismal number for someone who was once a number 1 starting receiver in the NFL.
Since playing in Pittsburgh for the past two seasons, Heyward-Bey has been demoted to back up receiver in the 3rd or 4th sloth. His play has taken a back seat to the likes of Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant who have both broken out as star receivers in the NFL over the past two seasons.
4 Cedrick Wilson
Wilson played three seasons as a member of the wide receiver corps with the Steelers. He joined the team in 2005, and stayed for three seasons with Roethlisberger as a quarterback. He played with Roethlisberger for the almost the entirety of those three seasons, missing only one game. In his last season with the Steelers, Wilson put up poor numbers in comparison to his previous two seasons with the team, a disappointment to the organization and the fans. In each of his first two years with the team Wilson had more that 25 receptions and 450 yards receiving. In his one season with Roethlisberger, Wilson caught 18 passes and only managed to rack up 207 yards receiving.
The cause could be bad chemistry between Wilson and Big Ben, or it could be something else, nonetheless the result was a poor season for Wilson, which ended up being his last in the NFL.
3 Justin Brown
Brown came out of college into the NFL without major expectations or as a huge pressure. He was slotted to become a 3rd or 4th receiver for the Steelers and provide some much needed balance in their WR roster during the 2014 season. However, like pretty much every player on this list, he failed to meet expectations and did not return to the team the following season. In his one season with the Steelers and Roethlisberger, Brown played eight games and in those games, caught 12 passes for 94 yards and no touchdowns. Not too bad for a player who only played eight games with a team, however, the Steelers felt otherwise. They demoted Brown to the practice squad and he stayed there for the remainder of the 2014 season. Injuries have plagued Brown for his entire career and have held him back from becoming a starting receiver in the NFL.
2 Jerricho Cotchery
Cotchery has made a name for himself the past two seasons, with his great play in Carolina playing with quarterback Cam Newton. Before that, most people remember him playing with Jets, but not the Steelers, and there is a reason for that. Cotchery played three seasons in Pittsburgh 2011-2013, and with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. In his first two seasons, Cotchery did not play well at all, and his stats show it. In each of his 2 seasons, he had less than 20 receptions, and did not rack up more than 237 yards receiving. After a couple 800-plus yard seasons, one 900-plus yard season and one 1,000 yard season with the Jets, the Steelers were expecting a lot more from the receiver.
In his third season in Pittsburgh, Cotchery started to regain some of his old stride, and managed 46 receptions, 600-plus yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. He once again found his form in his third season in Pittsburgh, something that eluded him the past two seasons. However, the following season, he left to Carolina.
1 Limas Sweed
In college Limas Sweed won two Rose Bowl Championships, as well as a BCS National Title. It's fair to say he had a great college football career, as he was one of the premiere receivers at the collegiate level. As expected, when it came time for Sweed to make the leap to the NFL, he was a highly touted prospect, and many teams wanted him. He was drafted in the 2nd round to the Steelers, and fans, as well as the organization, expected him to become a top 3 receiver on the Steelers roster, especially with Big Ben throwing the ball to him. However, Sweed's career in the NFL never quite panned out as he had and others had hoped.
Sweed did not end up playing more than two seasons with the Steelers, and only managed 7 receptions in 20 games with the black and gold. Sweed was a college success but an NFL failure.