Steel trap: Replacing Santonio Holmes won’t be easy

Santonio Holmes changed the look of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense. Without him, the Steelers might have to change the look of their draft board.
 

Speedy Mike Wallace needs a complement to keep the Steelers' passing game going.
Speedy Mike Wallace needs a complement to keep the Steelers’ passing game going.

Before Pittsburgh shipped its Super Bowl 43 MVP to the New York Jets for a fifth-round pick late Sunday, you could have made a case that its No. 1 target in next week’s draft would have been an interior offensive lineman, such as Mike Iupati or Maurkice Pouncey; a safety, such as Earl Thomas or Taylor Mays; or a cornerback, such as Joe Haden or Kyle Wilson.

 
Now, the Steelers might be looking in another direction with the 18th overall pick.
 
"Now, I think you have to look at (Dez) Bryant or (Demaryius) Thomas or one of these other (wide receivers) in the first round," NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said.
 
Putting his character issues aside — and that’s something the Steelers decided they no longer could do — Holmes has developed into one of the NFL’s best wideouts. He is fast, he is a deep threat, and, at 26, he is just moving into his prime. And no one will ever forget his balletic reception of Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning pass in the Super Bowl 14 months ago.
 
The Holmes trade takes away more than just big numbers from the Steelers’ offense (he caught 79 passes for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns last season). It also removes a key component in the passing game. Holmes and Mike Wallace, a speedster who made a big contribution as a rookie last season, gave defenses double trouble.
 
"When you had Holmes on one side and Wallace on the other," Baldinger said, "either one of them could get behind the defense on any given play."
 
It might seem strange to see Pittsburgh and passing in the same sentence.
 
For years, running the ball was the Steelers’ hallmark. But with Bruce Arians as the coordinator and Roethlisberger as the quarterback, the philosophy has changed.
 
Last season, Pittsburgh attempted 108 more passes than runs (536-428), and only six other teams threw more touchdown passes than the Steelers’ 28. In recent seasons, the Steelers used more four-receiver sets and bunch formations. With Roethlisberger surrounded by playmaking weapons, they caught up to the rest of the NFL.
 
"If you’ve watched how they’ve evolved under Ben, they’ve become a pass-happy team in what is now a pass-happy NFL," ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said. "It is about throwing the ball."
 
And the Steelers will continue to throw it. Hines Ward caught a team-high 95 passes for 1,167 yards and six touchdowns in ’09 … but he is 34 and mostly a possession receiver. Wallace had 39 catches for 756 yards and six TDs … but he doesn’t always play as big as his size (6 feet). This offseason, Pittsburgh brought back Antwaan Randle El (50 catches for 530 yards for the Redskins in ’09) … but he no longer is the playmaker he used to be.
 
Then there is Limas Sweed, who was disappointing — and that’s being generous — in his first two seasons; Arnaz Battle, who rarely distinguished himself during seven seasons in San Francisco; and a handful of young but unproven receivers.
 
"They have a lot of bodies, some with experience," Baldinger said. "But I don’t see anybody replacing what Santonio Holmes brought to that team."
 
And that’s why the Steelers may have to change their draft board.
 
This story appears in April 14’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only digital sports daily, sign up today.
 
Senior writer Dennis Dillon covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.
Santonio Holmes changed the look of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense. Without him, the Steelers might have to change the look of their draft board.
 

Speedy Mike Wallace needs a complement to keep the Steelers' passing game going.
Speedy Mike Wallace needs a complement to keep the Steelers’ passing game going.

Before Pittsburgh shipped its Super Bowl 43 MVP to the New York Jets for a fifth-round pick late Sunday, you could have made a case that its No. 1 target in next week’s draft would have been an interior offensive lineman, such as Mike Iupati or Maurkice Pouncey; a safety, such as Earl Thomas or Taylor Mays; or a cornerback, such as Joe Haden or Kyle Wilson.

 
Now, the Steelers might be looking in another direction with the 18th overall pick.
 
"Now, I think you have to look at (Dez) Bryant or (Demaryius) Thomas or one of these other (wide receivers) in the first round," NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said.
 
Putting his character issues aside — and that’s something the Steelers decided they no longer could do — Holmes has developed into one of the NFL’s best wideouts. He is fast, he is a deep threat, and, at 26, he is just moving into his prime. And no one will ever forget his balletic reception of Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning pass in the Super Bowl 14 months ago.
 
The Holmes trade takes away more than just big numbers from the Steelers’ offense (he caught 79 passes for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns last season). It also removes a key component in the passing game. Holmes and Mike Wallace, a speedster who made a big contribution as a rookie last season, gave defenses double trouble.
 
"When you had Holmes on one side and Wallace on the other," Baldinger said, "either one of them could get behind the defense on any given play."
 
It might seem strange to see Pittsburgh and passing in the same sentence.
 
For years, running the ball was the Steelers’ hallmark. But with Bruce Arians as the coordinator and Roethlisberger as the quarterback, the philosophy has changed.
 
Last season, Pittsburgh attempted 108 more passes than runs (536-428), and only six other teams threw more touchdown passes than the Steelers’ 28. In recent seasons, the Steelers used more four-receiver sets and bunch formations. With Roethlisberger surrounded by playmaking weapons, they caught up to the rest of the NFL.
 
"If you’ve watched how they’ve evolved under Ben, they’ve become a pass-happy team in what is now a pass-happy NFL," ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said. "It is about throwing the ball."
 
And the Steelers will continue to throw it. Hines Ward caught a team-high 95 passes for 1,167 yards and six touchdowns in ’09 … but he is 34 and mostly a possession receiver. Wallace had 39 catches for 756 yards and six TDs … but he doesn’t always play as big as his size (6 feet). This offseason, Pittsburgh brought back Antwaan Randle El (50 catches for 530 yards for the Redskins in ’09) … but he no longer is the playmaker he used to be.
 
Then there is Limas Sweed, who was disappointing — and that’s being generous — in his first two seasons; Arnaz Battle, who rarely distinguished himself during seven seasons in San Francisco; and a handful of young but unproven receivers.
 
"They have a lot of bodies, some with experience," Baldinger said. "But I don’t see anybody replacing what Santonio Holmes brought to that team."
 
And that’s why the Steelers may have to change their draft board.
 
This story appears in April 14’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only digital sports daily, sign up today.
 
Senior writer Dennis Dillon covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.

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