Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant has a golden opportunity to prove the promise that he showed during his first two seasons in the NFL is not empty.
Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will not play in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers. He is dealing with a hamstring injury, which means there is a strong chance he will miss more than one game.
Smith-Schuster has been the biggest beneficiary of the Steelers offense opening up in recent weeks, giving more skill-position players the opportunity to contribute besides running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Smith-Schuster led the Steelers in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns against the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts.
The Steelers will miss Smith-Schuster, but Bryant once was that exciting new receiver on the roster.
Bryant averaged more than 20 yards per catch during his rookie season in 2014, with 8 receiving touchdowns in 10 games. He caught 6 touchdown passes the next season in 11 games. Bryant was supposed to pair opposite Brown and give the Steelers the best WR duo in the NFL, but it didn’t turn out that way.
Violations of the NFL substance-abuse policy have cost Bryant more than 30 percent of his first four seasons in the NFL. He was suspended four games to start the 2015 season, and his second violation cost him an entire year in the NFL.
Bryant was fully reinstated prior to the start of the 2017 regular season, and the Steelers named him their No. 2 wide receiver. However, the season has not gone the way that he would have liked.
In nine games, Bryant has 23 catches for 306 yards and a touchdown. He also was a healthy scratch in the Steelers win against the Lions, after firing back at a fan on social media who said Smith-Schuster is better than him. His since-deleted reply was: “JuJu is nowhere near better than me fool. All they need to do is give me what I want, and yall can have JuJu or whoever else.”
This came on the heels of reports that Bryant was dissatisfied with his role in the offense and wanted to be traded.
He is still on the Steelers, and Smith-Schuster has caught 3 of his 5 touchdown passes this season since those reports first came out.
Bryant is in a contract year and now has the opportunity to assure himself of a payday with whichever team he plays for in 2018. He is 6-foot-4 and well over 200 pounds. If he shows during his time as the Steelers’ clear No. 2 wide receiver that he still can be the deep threat who burst onto the scene in 2014 as the team becomes virtually impossible to defend, then he could become one of the hottest available free agents.
It has been a long 1 1/2 years for Bryant, but his second chance to be a top-tier wide receiver in the NFL begins on Sunday. It is on him to take advantage of it.