As much as the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers pride themselves on stingy defenses, physical play and AFC North titles, they do differ on how to develop wide receivers.
Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore are the only receivers on the Ravens roster drafted by the organization. Perriman, a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft whose rookie campaign was wiped out by a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, has caught 14 passes for 183 yards. Moore, a fourth-round pick in April, has registered six receptions for 41 yards.
Meanwhile, the Steelers have three homegrown wideouts. Antonio Brown, a sixth-round pick in 2010, ranks sixth and ninth in the league in catches (48) and yards (592), respectively, and is tied for fourth in touchdown catches (five). Markus Wheaton, a third-round choice in 2013, has posted four receptions for 51 yards and one touchdown, and Sammie Coates, another third-round selection in 2015, has caught 20 balls for 425 yards and two scores.
Taking a wide receiver can be a hit-or-miss proposition, according to Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who worked with Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens with the San Francisco 49ers and DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I have said this once, and I am going to say it again: They have to stay healthy to get better every day," Mornhinweg said of the most important factor in a wide receiver's growth. "We talked about that before — getting better every day, and good things tend to happen. That has to happen for a player to do very well early in his career. Others, it takes some time, whether it was due to injury, whether it was due to a totally different type of offense [that they] asked him to do some different things. I have coached some great players that it happened very quickly for. I have coached some other players where it took some time."
Drafting wide receivers has not been the Ravens' strong suit. Of the 25 receivers taken by the franchise, former Maryland product and 2011 second-round pick Torrey Smith proved to be the most productive of that group, with the most receiving yards.
The club has used first-round selections three times, and Travis Taylor (10th overall in 2000) and Mark Clayton (22nd in 2005) did not reach their full potential. The jury is still out on Perriman (26th).
The organization's most productive receiver was Derrick Mason, who spent his first eight years with the Tennessee Oilers/Titans. This season, the team's leader in receiving yards with 490 and touchdowns with three is Mike Wallace, who played his first four seasons in Pittsburgh. And Steve Smith Sr., who spent his first 13 years with the Carolina Panthers, ranks third in receptions (27) and yards (310).
Perriman, who is basically in the midst of his rookie season, said he understands the expectations attached to his high placement in last year's draft.
"I know what I'm supposed to do," he said. "I'm a first-round draft pick, but I don't pay too much attention to that. Really, I just focus on how I've got a big role, and that's why I'm here. So I try not to focus on expectations and I just go out there and play, and I know everything will be fine."
Pittsburgh has had its share of misses, but has also successfully groomed wide receivers. Hines Ward, the franchise's leader in catches, yards and touchdown receptions, was a third-round choice in 1998. Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes were first-round picks in 2000 and 2006, respectively. And Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders were taken in the third round in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin dismissed the notion of the organization using a secret formula to find productive wideouts via the draft.
"We just hit on some of those guys. I'm not going to make more out of it than what it is," he said. "We do our due diligence just like everybody else does their due diligence. I am not going to pretend like our processes are better. We are just trying to get the very best players as consistently as we can, like everybody else. We have been fortunate in that area."
Wallace linked Pittsburgh's results to a simpler explanation. "Honestly, I think it's luck," he said.
The key, according to Wallace, is that the Steelers search for quick receivers with big-play capability that can complement quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's powerful arm.
"We just had guys with the same style and similar body types," Wallace said. "All of us were the same — fast, quick guys that can get open and catch the ball and make something out of nothing. All of us could make big plays because they had a big-play quarterback."
Fair or not, the emergence of young wide receivers like the New York Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. and the Oakland Raiders' Amari Cooper has distorted the developmental process for others. Whereas the general rule of thumb was that a wideout needed three years in the NFL to grow, that timeline is now much shorter.
"That doesn't exist anymore in this league," the Ravens' Moore said of the three-year buffer. "When you come here, you've got to be ready to play. That's how it is."
Perriman is aware of the outside expectations. But he embraces the model set by Beckham and Cooper and is eager to make a positive impact as quickly as he can.
"I want to do it now, too," Perriman said. "That's what I'm working toward doing, and I know it's coming. It's coming along pretty good, and I know it's just a matter of time until it really just clicks for me. So those are my expectations for me as well."
Hits and misses
Drafting in the NFL is never an exact science. Still, when it comes to selecting wide receivers, the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Here are several notable choices in the drafts for both teams.
Year Round (No.) Name Comment
1996 Fifth (153) Jermaine Lewis Made Pro Bowl as returner in 1998, 2001
1998 Second (42) Patrick Johnson Averaged 1.2 catches, 18.4 yards in 70 games
1999 Fourth (105) Brandon Stokley Caught touchdown in Super Bowl XXXV win
2000 First (10) Travis Taylor Ranked 7th in team history with 2,758 yards
2004 Third (82) Devard Darling Averaged 0.8 catches, 12.6 yards in 46 games
2005 First (22) Mark Clayton Ranked 4th in team history with 3,116 yards
2007 Third (74) Yamon Figurs Returned for Ravens, five other teams
2011 Second (58) Torrey Smith Ranked 3rd in team history with 3,591 yards
2015 First (26) Breshad Perriman Has 14 catches for 183 yards in second year
1998 Third (92) Hines Ward Leads franchise in receptions, yards, TDs
1999 First (13) Troy Edwards Averaged 2.2 catches, 26.1 yards in 92 games
2000 First (8) Plaxico Burress Caught game-winning TD for Giants in Super Bowl XLII
2002 Second (62) Antwaan Randle El Is only WR to throw TD pass in Super Bowl
2006 First (25) Santonio Holmes Named MVP of Super Bowl XLIII
2008 Second (53) Limas Sweed Averaged 0.4 catches, 3.5 yards in 20 games
2009 Third (84) Mike Wallace Leads Ravens in yards (490), TDs (3) in 2016
2010 Third (82) Emmanuel Sanders Ranks in Top 15 in catches, yards in 2016
2010 Sixth (195) Antonio Brown Ranks in Top 10 in catches, yards in 2016
2013 Third (79) Markus Wheaton Is No. 4 on Steelers depth chart
2014 Third (97) Dri Archer Is free agent after time with Steelers, Jets, Bills
2015 Third (87) Sammie Coates Ranks 2nd in yards, 3rd in TDs on Steelers in 2016