I say mistaken because even when he was in his prime, Randle El was not as good a receiver as Mike Wallace was as a rookie. At this point in his career only an injury to Wallace would explain why Randle El would play ahead of him. If the Steelers actually told Randle El that he would be their No. 3 receiver this year, either they were a) lying or b) crazy. There is no other logical explanation.
When Randle El talked to the Washington Post, he seemed to believe that he's returning to Pittsburgh as a key cog.
"We've talked about just playing No. 3 receiver. That's all we talked about," Randle El said. "I'm not even sure about punt return, now that I think about it. The way I always look at it, I'm going to go in and be No. 3. But if the other guys go down, certainly, I'll be the one to step in. I don't think I'm going to be sitting on the sideline watching. That's how I approach it."
Randle El has a high opinion of his skills, and it's hard to find a Steelers fan who isn't happy to have Randle El back. He was a beloved member of the Super Bowl XL champions and even his departure was understandable -- the Redskins gave him the kind of contract you don't turn down.
But Randle El is nothing more than a security blanket for the Steelers. And if he's anything more than that, something has gone horribly wrong among the Steelers coaches and front office. Pittsburgh has plenty of targets to throw to already -- Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward each topped 1,000 yards last year. Tight end Heath Miller was a Pro Bowler last year. And Mike Wallace is one of the top young receivers in the league.
Yes, Randle El is still somewhat capable of finding the seam in a zone to snag a nine-yard pass on third and eight -- although don't expect him to get many yards after the catch. But Wallace is capable of catching a 70-yard touchdown on that same third and eight. There's no way that playing Randle El over Wallace would help the Steelers win games.
In his best season, Randle El caught 51 passes for 728 yards. In his worst season he started 16 games but still finished with only 351 yards. Even though he wasn't a starter, Wallace caught 39 passes for 756 yards (better than Randle El's career high) as a rookie. Randle El has six catches of 40 yards or more in his career. Wallace had six of 40+ as a rookie. In Randle El's best season he had four touchdowns. Wallace had six last year.
And it's not clear that Randle El is the obvious choice as a punt returner either. He averaged a brutal 6.0 yards per punt return last year with three fumbles in only 17 returns. He hasn't averaged more than seven yards a return since 2006. In comparison Stefan Logan averaged 9.3 yards per punt return for the Steelers. Logan also put together the best season as a Steeler kick returner in nearly two decades.
Randle El's return likely means that Logan's days as a Steeler are numbered. Between Randle El, Mewelde Moore, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace and Joe Burnett, there are enough punt and kick return candidates who also contribute on offense or defense to make a pure returner a luxury. But Steelers fans expecting that they are getting the Randle El of 2005 back are likely to be somewhat disappointed.