By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers wideouts Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders collective are known as “Young Money,” but tight end Weslye Saunders is petitioning the group to become a member.
After catching his first NFL touchdown pass to help secure a 13-9 Steelers win at Kansas City this past Sunday night, Saunders should have cinched admittance, but the two-yard score came on just his third NFL reception. So, membership might not be guaranteed just yet for the undrafted rookie.
Saunders — who said he still has the game ball in his car — deferred to Brown, while the second-year wideout passed it off to Wallace. The self-described “Young Money” leader, Wallace believed that Saunders has made the grade.
“Even though he’s a tight end, he kind of looks like a receiver,” Wallace said about the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Saunders. “So, I don’t know, but I guess we can make an exception for him. … We were thinking about jumping him in, but after thinking about it we didn’t want to get any blood on our hands.
“So, we’ll just have to let him score some more touchdowns. (But) it is young money, so he doesn’t have that much money. And I guess since he wasn’t drafted, he really doesn’t have any money. So, maybe he’s no money, (but) once he gets his cash up he can be young money with us.”
One thing is certain, if Saunders is going to keep pace with the Steelers’ young wideout trip, he’ll need to ramp up his touchdown celebration quite a bit.
“I was so surprised to have scored that I really didn’t have any plan,” Saunders said. “Me and Antonio joked about the celebration that we would do, but I was so surprised and hyped when I scored that I forgot. With that particular play, I was not the primary option (for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger).
“So, when I got the ball thrown my way, it definitely was a surprise. … I might have been the third or fourth option on that play, but I guess it all worked out for everybody in the end. (And) I definitely have a plan in my head, so I already know what I’m going to go with the next time. But it’s going to be a surprise.”
With just three catches for 15 yards, it’s a good bet that Saunders has never been Roethlisberger’s primary option this season.
“We’ve done that play a lot in practice, but it’s never come my way,” Saunders said. “Not one time. Ben never threw it to me, so that’s why I was so surprised. But I was glad to get that opportunity, and I wanted to make sure I made the catch. So, I’m just glad I got the opportunity and was able to take advantage.
“What I had to go through the past year and what I’ve accomplished here has made me appreciate what I have, and I’m really enjoying my rookie season here in Pittsburgh. This is a great team with great coaches and the Rooneys, I couldn’t have asked for a better franchise to be part of.
“And B.A., he loves to use the tight ends in a lot of different situations,” Saunders added. “That’s different from what I did at South Carolina. I was spread out a little bit more in Coach Spurrier’s spread offense, but here I’m playing more as an actual tight end. So, I really love all those options.”
Saunders’ story resurfaced this week after his crucial touchdown catch and how he went from being rated among the top tight ends in the country to an undrafted free agent because he was suspended for his senior season at South Carolina due to alleged dealings with an agent.
“It’s all about what goes on in your mind, and in my head at this time last year I was a first-round draft pick and one of the top tight ends in the country,” Saunders said, “And that never left my mind, even though I broke my foot (while training), didn’t get drafted and went into training camp as an undrafted free agent. I still knew what my abilities were, but I just had to prove myself.
“I had to prove that I wasn’t a head case and I wasn’t a cancer in the locker room, and I was able to do that. The coaches gave me an opportunity to play special teams and on offense, and I’m making the most of it. (And) the biggest thing was that I had to prove that my foot was healthy and prove that I wasn’t what they said I was at South Carolina. And I was able to do that.”
But is he now included in “Young Money?”
“I think the touchdown pass solidified my standing,” Saunders said. “And Ike Taylor came up to me during the game and said ‘I guess you’re really a part of young money now.’ He said I have swag now, too, so that solidified it for me.”