Monday, July 22, 2024

Pittsburgh Steelers Season Preview

What a crazy year it’s been for the Steelers, not only did they lose two of the greatest ever players in their respective positions in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown but they also lost their HoF offensive line coach who is also recognised as the best in the game today.

Luckily, the Steelers are so well run as an organisation the only thing they may miss is offensive guru Mike Munchak. James Connor filled the Bell void last season incredibly well whilst JuJu Smith-Schuster has been at a WR1 level now for 12+ months.

Speaking of the last 12 months the Steelers, unfortunately, took a step backwards in 2018. Nonetheless, there is a reason for hope, in both 2003 and 2007 Pittsburg underperformed and the following season was pure NFL dominance, could we see this replay? After all, everybody is writing the Steelers off already.

The Bengals game in week 17, although a ‘nothing game’ gave me an indication into what the new Steelers will look like, they dominated without any issue whatsoever.

Tomlins Tinkering

Mike Munchak Moves On, Shaun Sarrett Named OL Coach – Most Steelers fans expected Munchak to leave at some point soon. I don’t think anyone expected him to leave for another offensive line job. Munchak was reported to be one of the finalists for the Broncos head coaching job. Once it was announced Vic Fangio had gotten the Broncos head coaching job, I thought that we were in the clear. It was then reported that Munchak was being hired as the Broncos offensive line coach. I was pretty shocked at first. Things were going great for him here and I didn’t think he was getting caught up in all of the other drama(more on that later). But it turns out he wanted to be closer to his family(which is why he interviewed for the HC position in the first place). Shaun Sarrett has been with the Steelers for 8 years now but last year was his first as an OL assistant specifically. This seemed like a no brainer move and many speak highly of Sarrett. Losing Munchak is obviously big but hopefully, Sarrett can pick up where Mike left off.

Joey Porter Not Retained, Keith Butler Takes Back OLB Coach Role – This has been something many fans(including myself) have been hoping for. Although TJ Watt has looked great in his first two seasons, the same development hasn’t been felt through Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones did not improve in his final two seasons with the Steelers. Yes, the Steelers did finish 1st in sacks the last two years, but that is a little deceitful. A good amount of those sacks came from the defensive line and blitzing ILBs. In 2017, Cam Heyward and Vince Williams(the two leading Steelers sackers) accounted for 35.7% of the sacks. 2018 was better because of Watt’s 13 sacks, but there wasn’t much behind him. Which is another issue; the Steelers have gotten almost nothing from backup EDGE rushers. Anthony Chickillo is not awful, but not someone you’d want to be your #3 EDGE, which is what he has been the past 2 years. So Porter didn’t develop any depth either. There all also some off the field questions with Porter, including possibly trying to pit the defense against the offense, though this has been denied by some players. He is being replaced by…….Keith Butler.

Butler was the Steelers OLB coach for 12 years before being promoted to DC after Dick LeBeau’s departure. The results so far have been a mixed bag at best. The defensive line and the run defence has been pretty consistent, but the secondary has been a mess and the overall scheme has question marks attached. Maybe going back to his roots will help that group and in turn, help the defence. Or maybe this is a purely cosmetic decision and nothing will change. We will see. But this might be the last year for Butler to prove he can be the DC.

James Saxon Not Retained, Eddie Faulkner Named New RB Coach – This move is baffling. I assumed that Porter would be the last coaching change made. Saxon was the RB coach since 2014. Most notably the year Le’Veon Bell broke out. You have to party contribute that and the rest of Bell’s career to this point to Saxon. Deangelo Williams also had a successful 2015 season under Saxon. James Conner is also hopefully on his way to a promising NFL Career after a good 2018 season. So why was Saxon not retained? No clue.

No one has any idea why this move was made. No one. Steelers players and other NFL coaches are apparently dumbfounded and mad by this decision. Some point to the fact that the Steelers ranked 31st in total rushing last year. While true, the Steelers also ranked 31st in rushing attempts. Hard to rush well as a team if you aren’t committed to the run in every scenario. So I just doubt that reasoning. Your guess is as good as any as to why Saxon was let go. Maybe something will come out later, but for now, we are all in the dark. He is now the Cardinals RB Coach.

Steelers decided to hire Eddie Faulkner to replace Saxon. Faulkner had been NC State’s TE/FB/ST coach for 6 years. Current Steeler Jaylen Samuel played under Faulkner, so maybe the Steelers liked him while they were scouting Samuels. It’ll be interesting to see what he can bring to this young RB group.

Teryl Austin Hired As Senior Defensive Assistant/Secondary – Tomlin (correctly) felt that the defence needed a little extra support in terms of coaching. Austin was most recently fired by the Bengals last year as there defensive coordinator. The Bengals defence was very bad last year, but Austin has a decorated NFL career and coaching a smaller group of defensive backs will hopefully be a better scenario for him. Apparently, Austin will also have some sort of role concerning challenges and maybe even time management. Tomlin has not won a challenge since the WC game against the Miami Dolphins in the 2016-2017 postseason and he has been criticized by some for his clock management.

There has been some debate whether or not these changes are just Tomlin saving face/trying to shift the blame. I personally don’t. Tomlin is never one to deflect blame away from himself. While the Saxon decision is certainly questionable, the Porter decision was a long time coming and having Butler back with the OLB is at the very least an interesting move(if not a last-ditch effort). Some wonder whether another down year would mean the end of Tomlin in Pittsburgh. Its definitely an interesting conversation, but I ultimately think Tomlin will be safe unless things completely fall off the rails.

2019 Offseason (Free Agency and Draft)

Antonio Brown (Traded for Raiders 2019 3rd and 5th round picks) – Whew boy. I’m gonna try my best to keep most of this section focused on the field, though some off the field stuff is relevant(more about the off the field aspect will be in the Other Offseason news section). Brown basically forced himself into being traded this offseason(besides asking for a trade obviously). Things were getting very toxic, very quickly and it was making everybody look very bad. I think the Steelers made some mistakes along the way and ultimately hurt the trade value. The biggest example was when Art Rooney II said in an interview that they weren’t going to cut him and that it was “hard to envision” Brown with the team in training camp. So if you aren’t going to release him but you don’t see him on the team in July, then that is very obviously telling that you are going to trade him. Which hurts the trade value immensely. Now teams know that you are almost desperate to trade him. That was a damaging interview. Brown was briefly a Bill until that trade fell threw because of Brown wanting a new contract and the Bills not willing to give him one. The Raiders then swooped in and got the deal done(much more to the story, but again, trying to stay on topic). In my opinion, this was not a great trade for us. A 3rd and a 5th for arguably the best receiver in the NFL is just not enough. I get they were between a rock and a hard place, but I thought it would be an early 2nd. Plus you have to factor in the cap hit it took. Replacing Brown will be difficult and will take more than one person. Hopefully, they can figure it out in time before a playoff run.

Le’Veon Bell – This will be short. Bell sat out the entire 2019 season due to a contract dispute. Bell didn’t like the contract being offered by the Steelers(specifically the guaranteed money). The Steelers aren’t willing to give a ton of guaranteed money to any of their free agents. Bell signed with the Jets. The contract really isn’t very favorable to him compared to the final contract offer the Steelers gave. But he wanted to bet on himself, so good on him.

Marcus Gilbert (Traded for Cardinals 2019 6th Round pick) – Gilbert’s career started pretty great. He became a regular starter in 2013 and got better and better as time went on. At one point, I would say he was a Top 5 RT in this league. 2017 was the year things took a turn. Gilbert injured his hamstring in a Week 2 win against the Vikings. He didn’t return until Week 6, where he aggravated the injury early in the game. After returning for 2 games, he was suspended for PEDs(assumingly to rehab the injury). Sustained a concussion in the playoff loss against the Jags. In 2018 he dealt with a hamstring and knee injury and was ultimately placed on IR after only playing in 5 games. All the while, Chris Hubbard and Matt Feiler filled in pretty well for him (especially Hubbard, who signed a big deal with the Browns after 2017). This made Gilbert expendable, thus leading to the trade. This is a great trade for the Cardinals. Giving up a day 3 pick for a chance to get a Top 5 RT is something any team should do. The Steelers are in good hands though.

Coty Sensabaugh – Coty Sensabaugh wasn’t supposed to be starting in 2018. I didn’t even think he was gonna make the roster, considering the fact that he was benched in 2017. He ended up making the team. He didn’t start immediately but after Artie Burns disastrous performance in Cincinnati, he made his way back to the lineup. And admittedly, he wasn’t awful. Much better than in 2017. PFF gave some praise. That stat is a little misleading but that’s beside the point. The biggest issue is that he would make NO effort on the ball at times. It was almost like he would see the ball coming and just stop covering his man. Bizarre. When the biggest issue with your defense is you don’t make big plays, someone like Sensabaugh doesn’t help the cause. He somehow ended up with 6 PDs, but 3 of them came against Jeff Driskel and Joe Flacco. Again, not awful, but not what this team needs to make the leap.

Jon Bostic – I don’t like to say I told you so, but I knew that the Bostic signing would not work out after the Steelers did not draft a single linebacker in the following draft. Bostic was not this highly-coveted free agent that prohibited the Steelers from bringing in competition. I still thought linebacker was one of the Steeler’s biggest needs going into the draft. The Steelers only have themselves to blame for what happened during the season.

Bostic was not an awful run defender, but he wasn’t that great. Not as good as Vince Williams. The issue came in pass defense. He was GOD AWFUL. Constant blown coverages. Not really playing the ball(partly because he was never close enough). Part of that is due to the scheme. The Steelers put themselves in a bad situation that they had to try and remedy. But he still was rough. I try to go back and watch all of the games from last season. He struggled mightily against Jared Cook. Not that Cook is bad, but it almost seemed like they were in two different leagues. After the Denver game, Bostic was essentially benched and didn’t see more than 18 snaps in a single game. Bostic is currently unsigned after being cut.

Jesse James – Jesse James had some pretty successful seasons in Pittsburgh. Even with the emergence of Vance McDonald, James arguably had his best season yet. I was not shocked when he decided to leave. We weren’t gonna pay him a ton if he wanted to stay and he probably would have been behind McDonald. Funny enough, Lions drafted TJ Hockenson in the first round and I would guess he would become the #1 tight end sooner rather than later. I think the contract was a little rich for my taste. James was just a very average tight end that isn’t that athletic.

Morgan Burnett – This was another signing that I liked when it happened and then my feelings changed after the draft. This time, I was wrong about what I thought would happen. Unfortunately, the results were not any better. Burnett got through the first 2 games of the season before getting injured. He came back for the 2nd Cleveland game but never played at a consistent level. He did have some good moments but Burnett’s Steeler career will most likely be remembered by blown coverages. Same issue as Bostic. Playing as the third safety most of the time, Burnett was given a lot of responsibilities that he just couldn’t handle. Fans thought the Steelers might cut Burnett before he requested to be released due to the way he was used(not completely in the wrong). Steelers tried to find a trade partner but couldn’t. Burnett is currently on the Browns. All of the major outside UDFAs signed last year are now off of the team one year later.

LJ Fort – Fort was one of the linebackers that tried to fix the mess the Steelers left in that group. He had been with the team for a bit, but he started playing regularly in week 12 against the Chargers. Some fans and analysts seemed to like the way he played and were sad to see him go to the Eagles. I don’t think he was that great. One thing I will say, he made more splash plays than most of the defence. He would jump off the screen at times, but I think he struggled in the run and pass defence. Not that he was a bad player, but not someone who should have been starting. He was a great special teamer and that will be something the Steelers will have to replace.

LT Walton – Walton was a nice surprise as a 6th round pick. Never gave a ton in pass rush, but was a pretty alright run defender. Which isn’t bad for a backup.

Antonio Brown was traded away for peanuts to cause havoc from Oakland from within. Le’Veon Bell, after holding out for the entirety of the 2018 season used his contract expiration as an opportunity to move to New York.

As for their incomings, The Steelers don’t really do FA.

Steven Nelson – As many of you may know, the Steelers are not big spenders in free agency. They would rather develop their own and then refill through the draft. In the past three years, I would say the Steelers have signed 3 “significant” outside free agents each year. Nelson is the first and highest-paid one this year. In fact, Nelson is the highest-paid outside free agent in Steelers history. That says a lot about how the Steelers approach free agency. Nelson spent last year on the Chiefs, playing almost every snap on the outside. PFF had some alright things to say. I’ve watched him in a couple of Chief games and I did like what I saw. The consensus among Chief fans seems to be that Nelson is alright, not a #1 calibre corner, but will work as a number 2. Also, say he can get a bit handsy. Nelson has played on the inside and the outside in his career. He primarily played outside last year and he has said that’s where he would like to play this year. I think that is where the Steelers are going to play him, seeing as the team is severely lacking a #2 OCB. However, Nelson’s flexibility was talked about early in the offseason by Mike Tomlin. I could see scenarios that move Nelson in the slot limitedly to give playing time for a certain 3rd round rookie. I only see that happening if said rookie shows a ton early. Either way, this signing is great and was desperately needed.

Mark Barron – Barron started his career in Tampa as a safety. He was traded midway through his rookie contract to the then St. Louis Rams. That is when he started to play the linebacker position. Barron signed a 5-year contract with the Rams after his rookie contract. Barron played a significant amount in the next 3 years before being cut after the 2018-2019 season. Before anyone speculates where he will play, Barron said he is playing linebacker with the Steelers. This is interesting because saying he’s only playing linebacker brings up questions in regards to how he will be used in sub-packages and things of that sort. Being a former safety, you would think Barron would be pretty good in coverage. But after watching him in a few Rams games last year, that is not necessarily the case. Zone coverage was alright, but he got beat a few times in the 3-4 games that I watched. Run defence was alright. The consensus from Rams fans was a little all over the place. We’ll talk about this more when we get to the starting lineups, but it will be very interesting to see what Tomlin decides to do to start the season. The signing was definitely needed, but how Barron is going to be used is still very much up in the air.

Donte Moncrief – After his rookie contract in Indianapolis was up, Moncrief signed a 1 year prove-it deal with the surging Jacksonville Jaguars. Though if I remember correctly, Moncrief was talking about getting paid way before his rookie contract was up(correct me if I’m wrong). The Jaguars fell back to the pack in 2018, largely due to the offence. They ranked bottom 10 in many offensive statistics. Bortles was not good, Fournette missed time and wasn’t that effective when he did play, receiving options were not good enough, and the offensive line gave up the 3rd most sacks in the league. The offence was anaemic. Moncrief is inarguably coming into a better situation than he was in Jacksonville. Many of his 89 targets last year were ruled “uncatchable”. However, it’s not fair to say that his inadequacies last year were all due to his supporting cast. Moncrief has never been an amazing receiver. His best year came in 2015, totalling 64 catches, 733 yards, and 6 touchdowns playing second fiddle to T.Y. Hilton. I’ll talk about this more when we get to the starting lineup/training camp battles, but Moncrief absolutely has a chance to be the #2 this year.

2019 NFL Draft Class – Pittsburg Steelers

Devin Bush – As soon as Bush declared for the draft in December, he was immediately on my radar. Bush had a productive 2 years at Michigan. Early on in the draft process, it seemed like Bush to the Steelers was a dead obvious pairing. Steelers were in his range and he was exactly what we needed. However, as we came closer to the draft, Bush’s stock went up. Then the combine happened. He blew up the combine, most noteworthy being his 4.43 40 yard dash. That completely took him out of the 20 range and into the Top 10. I honestly did not think the Steelers would trade up. They aren’t a team that trades up often. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to trade up. Trade ups that far usually take (at least) a couple of high draft picks. Something I didn’t think we could afford to lose, even though I did think highly of Bush.

It’s hard to be mad after seeing what we gave up. A 2nd and a future 3rd(plus the pick swap) is nothing to potentially get a star. Funny enough, Kevin Colbert said they were willing to give up these picks because they knew they had an extra third-round pick this year(Antonio Brown Trade) and a probable 3rd round compensatory pick next year(Le’Veon Bell). So while AB and Bell left on bad notes, them doing so helped get one of the best defensive players in the draft.

Devin White went higher, but Bush has a chance to be just as good(if not better). The speed is obvious on tape and his reactions are quick and accurate. He is smaller, but he hits big and isn’t afraid of contact. Best of all, his pass coverage is great for a linebacker, something the Steelers are DYING for. He was also a team captain in 2018. Despite all the praise, he is not a perfect prospect. For one, he is small. He’s in the 3rd percentile for height(5’11) and 24th in weight(234). In today’s NFL, small isn’t a bad thing. Bush is pretty small, though. The other big knock is he can struggle to get off of blocks. Partly because of his shorter than average arms. It’s something that can be worked on(hopefully) but an aspect to keep an eye on. This was a move the Steelers had to make. The only reason why I’m not giving this pick an A+ is that they still had to give up some valuable picks to move up. But besides that, a beautiful start. GRADE – A

Diontae Johnson – Now without a 2nd round pick, the Steelers had to wait until the back half of the third round to fill some more holes. Steelers missed out on a couple of good receivers they would have had a chance to draft at 52, but there were enough good ones left that I wasn’t worried about the Steelers missing on one. I kind of wavered back and for whether or not the Steelers should be looking for an outside receiver or more of a slot receiver.

Johnson was a 0-star recruit out of high school and only had two FBS offers(played quarterback for most of high school). He garnered some attention after his sophomore season where he finished 8th in the FBS in receiving yards. With quarterback Logan Woodside off to the NFL, Johnson’s production dipped a bit. He still led the team in receiving yards in 2018, but with only 761. Surprisingly, Johnson declared after the 2018 season. Not because he wasn’t good, but it’s weird to see Non-P5 receivers enter the draft early.

Funny enough, Johnson measured 5’10, 183 pounds at the combine. Antonio Brown is 5’10, 186. Just saying. The thing that immediately jumps off the screen when you watch Johnson is his route running. Louis Riddick said he is “the best route runner in this Draft.” Super high praise but he backs it up. It will always be concerning that Johnson played in the MAC, but he was able to succeed and sometimes dominate that competition. That’s always something you want to see when you draft non-P5 players. Johnson did not run fast at the combine(4.53), but he looks faster on tape. Super shifty receiver. Daryl Drake said “Not only is he a tremendous football player, but a tremendous young man. I fell in love with him after spending time with him and dining with him and talking to him and seeing his passion for the game, his passion for wanting to be great, and his passion for his teammates.” So his character is off the charts as well, something that the Steelers seem to seek out. Also returned kickoffs in college

His problems aren’t very surprising. Being his size, you are going to have issues when corners put their hands on you. That’s going to be the biggest learning curve once he starts playing in games. Also being that size, it will be hard to force his way through some tackles. The biggest issue for me though is he dropped A LOT of passes. Drake described them as “focus drops” but it seemed to happen a couple of times during a game. If the coach isn’t too worried, then I guess I won’t either, but it’s still something to watch.

I will admit, this isn’t a receiver I thought was going to go on Day 2. There were a lot of things to like, but I didn’t think the NFL thought that highly of him. Apparently, Bruce Arians called Daryl Drake and was cursing him out for taking him. They supposedly were going to take him. That made me feel better about the pick. Overall, I warmed up to the pick. GRADE – B

Justin Layne – Now with the top two needs taken care of, corner was the next obvious position to address. Justin Layne was falling far down the board. Layne was mocked to the Seahawks in the first round in Mel Kiper’s final mock draft. Many had Layne going in the first 2 rounds. 82 picks and 9 corners drafted later, Layne was on the board.

He signed with Michigan State as a wide receiver, though he moved to corner during his freshman year. Which I think is one of the big reasons why he fell as far as he did. Layne is pretty raw. You usually see stories before the draft about super raw players that have a chance to go high because of the potential they might have. Then they fall because some teams would rather draft ready-made players rather than projects. Steelers are definitely not one of those teams. You can tell that he doesn’t have it all figured out yet, but he is worth the work. Layne is 6’1, 192, and has an 80′ wingspan(96th percentile). He didn’t run super fast 40 (4.5) but had a really good broad jump(134″). An athlete the Steelers are always looking for. He had 16 PD’s this past season and according to PFF, only 3 missed tackles in two years. He was also the 39th player on PFF’s big board. When I think raw Steelers corner, Artie Burns comes to mind. He has never come anywhere close to playing at his potential. I think Layne is a little different because Layne looked so much farther along in college than Burns did.

Layne was the perfect pick for where the Steelers were at and what they need. There were a couple of other guys that definitely could have been the pick, but Layne fits the Steelers mold the best. Unlike past years, Layne won’t have to start immediately because the Steelers actually have other caliber corners in front of him. And if he proves himself enough this year to get some playing time, then you can do that. If not, that’s alright. GRADE – A

Benny Snell Jr. – Now heading into the 4th round, things open up a bit more. Safety, tight end, and EDGE are the most likely picks.

This is the first pick that I don’t love. Snell was getting hype early in the college football season due to Kentucky breaking the streak against Florida and Snell never really looked back. To me, it was very obvious that the Steelers would be interested in Snell and they would try to draft him. The question was when not if. He fits the Steelers mold to the T. Hard runner. Never gives up on a play. Early declaration. Plenty of Production. Accolades in the best conference in the FBS. Did not miss extensive time in college with injuries. Character is insanely off the charts. Search Benny Snell on Youtube; see for yourself. He is the type of guy you want on your team. He is exactly the type of running back the Steelers look for.

His concerns and problems are blatantly obvious. He is not fast(Ran a 4.66). Not gonna break away for a long run. Not a ton of explosiveness. Was not a big threat in the passing game. All of these things are important, but the Steelers work on stuff like this a lot with running backs. So these things are not deal breakers

Here is the problem; was he a need? I have my doubts.

Yes, teams should base their picks on BPA(best player available) at this point in the draft. Yes, he is a Steeler through and through. But there were a couple more positions more important at this point. Let alone the fact some analysts saw Snell as a 5th-6th round pick. I’m not necessarily mad that they picked Snell, I’m more concerned by the fact that this pick affected things later in the draft that I will talk about later.

Remember, this is the team that had the 2nd least rushing attempts in the NFL last year. Yes, that probably won’t happen again, but that leads me into my next point: Where is Benny on the depth chart? Conner is obviously good and Samuels showed some good things in his limited time last year. Snell is starting as RB3. What is the plan? Running back by committee? Steelers don’t feel comfortable with Samuels? I just don’t know. I like the player, I just don’t think this was something the Steelers needed to do(until later). I also wish the Steelers went with a pure speed back to bring some variety to the run game. Very interested to see what happens.


Zach Genty – Another pick I’m questioning. Gentry declared early after an alright season at Michigan. Seems like the Steelers really liked the talent in the midwest this year(6 out of the 9 players). Gentry just seems like a very raw player at this point. Most were surprised that he declared early because they thought he needed more time. Another player that was recruited as a quarterback but made a position change in their first season.

Just look at Gentry’s web. The measurables are insane(6’8!!!!!). A great target to throw at that I’m sure Ben is happy about. Not to generalize too much, but he gives me Jesse James vibes. It took him a little bit to become who he is now. Gentry could follow the same path, but he just doesn’t have things figured out right now. Which is fine, but I feel the team really needed someone that either could be the #2 TE now or could turn into one in time. Which I think Gentry can, but I doubt it would be this season. I don’t know if we’ll see much of Gentry this year. This pick isn’t awful, I just would have done things differently. GRADE – C

Sutton Smith – Another player I knew the Steelers would take someway somehow. Smith had an outstanding final two years at Northern Illinois, being named a consensus All-American in both seasons. He led the FBS in TFLs in both seasons as well. So, you may be asking why he lasted till the 6th round. Good college players are not necessarily good NFL players.

Here is Sutton Smith’s Combine Web. Every measurable related to his body is under the 5%tile in relation to other EDGEs. Smith was able to be an absurdly successful EDGE in the MAC. Unfortunately for him, most of the tackles he faced will not be in the NFL. He got manhandled at the Senior Bowl. Being as small as he is, it will be very difficult for Smith to win at the same pace as he did in the MAC, if at all. The Steelers have already talked about him working at inside linebacker. The Steelers(rightfully so) are not completely keeping him away from playing EDGE. When you have someone who puts it all out there like Smith, you can’t limit him from what he can do. He has also been working at fullback during minicamp so that it something to keep an eye on. He was a running back in high school.

I don’t think we will see Smith at all on defense this year, but he is going to be a dynamite special teamer. That is what’s gonna keep him on the team and let him continue to work at either linebacker spot. This was a good pick for the Steelers. Though it would have made sense to take a pure EDGE, it’s smart business to take guys with pedigree.GRADE – B+

Isaiah Buggs – Buggs attended a community college for 2 years before going to Alabama. Buggs ended up starting 28 games in 2 years and led the team in sacks in the 2nd year. That was accompanied with a jump in sacks, FF, and PD’s. He played DE at Alabama, but something he may be moving inside. I’m sure that could be possible, but I think he plays defensive end in our system. I don’t know how well he would at nose tackle. The pick could mean more 2-5-4 defensive scheme with him and Cam Heyward on the inside if Buggs gets to that point. Having that backup piece could be valuable in terms of giving some of the starters some rest, which has been a talking point in the past. It is a little concerning that he was projected to be a 4th round pick and fell to the 6th. His combine wasn’t great. Maybe it has to do with that? His teammates say he is a great leader and you can’t have too many of those on your defense. I think the pick was fine, but another position could have been more of a priority GRADE – B

Ulysees Gilbert – Steelers realized that taking more than one linebacker would be smart. Gilbert was another player that took a pre-draft visit with the Steelers(3 of the 9 draft picks, 2 UDFAs). Gilbert started every game at Akron for the past 3 years. He played linebacker every season, but he moved to SAM linebacker in his final year. That seemed to make his stats fall a bit. He recorded 62 less tackles(79), 2 less TFL(7.5), 4.5 less sacks(.5), 6 less PD(1), and 0 interceptions in only 2 less games. He still was awarded 2nd Team All-MAC, but that was after 2 straight 1st Team All-MAC selections.

All of that seems to suggest he didn’t fit playing the strong side role. He is a very small linebacker(6’0, 234). I get why they played him there. He will be less likely to get exposed at that position since it’s the MAC and not a Power 5 conference. However, it’s clear his production dipped. It seems that he is gonna have to play WILL if he wants to have a path in the NFL(besides playing special teams). Even then, It will be tough since he is that small. He is pretty fast though(4.51 Pro Day time), so that will help him. I think the pick is fine. Not great not awful. An interesting player to watch. GRADE – B

Derwin Gray – At this point in the draft, you are trying to make sure you get guys that may go undrafted. Once the draft is over, these guys get to sign with whoever wants them. Gray started 22 games in the last two seasons with Maryland. He strictly played left tackle. The Steelers are pretty set at offensive line, but again, you go after the best players on your board at this point. I don’t know much about offensive line, but Gray was liked by some analysts. He probably has the toughest path of all the draft picks to make it on the roster. The offensive line is loaded and there are only a couple spots up for grabs with guys with experience in front of him. He is gonna have to show some flexibility and skill if he wants to make the team.


Training Camp standouts and battles.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they have a couple of positions and players who could be viewed as being on the roster “bubble”. Granted, many of these scenarios are tied together. For instance, if the Steelers don’t keep 6 wide receivers, it could give them the flexibility to keep an extra offensive lineman. If they choose to go into the season with just 4 natural safeties, it impacts the rest of the players on the roster fringe.

Not every position has these battles. The backup quarterback role has seemingly been decided, hence why it isn’t listed here among these decisions which need to be made. However, for this exercise, you have to take a look at the position and figure out which player should stay in the current scenario.

In other words, you be Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin here, and make the tough decisions at each position!

Take a look at the players on the “bubble”:

Running Back: Benny Snell Jr., Trey Edmunds

The Steelers won’t go into the season with just two running backs, James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, so who makes the team as RB3?

Tight End: Zach Gentry, Kevin Rader

Pittsburgh’s tight end depth is atrocious, but did Rader do enough, mainly as a blocker, to push the rookie off the roster and become a practice squad hopeful?

Wide Receiver: Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer, Johnny Holton, Dionate Spencer

Let’s assume the Steelers keep six wide receivers? Do the following make the team?

The locks:
JuJu Smith-Schuster
Donte Moncrief
Diontae Johnson
James Washington

Who from the above receivers makes the squad? And what if they only keep 5 instead of 6?

Offensive Line: Zach Banner, Fred Johnson, Jerald Hawkins, Derwin Gray

It wasn’t a pretty showing for the backup offensive linemen vs. the Panthers in Week 4. Assuming Chukwuma Okorafor is a lock to make the team, who else makes the squad along the offensive line?

Defensive Line: Isaiah Buggs

Did Buggs show enough to make the roster? Or do they turn him into a practice squad hopeful and roll with Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu and Daniel McCullers?

Outside Linebacker: Tuzar Skipper, Anthony Chickillo (injury)

Chickillo and Ola Adeniyi are both banged up, Adeniyi seems more serious, but is there any scenario where Chickillo is let go, or placed on IR, and Skipper takes his place? This is assuming the team wants to keep that many OLBs on their 53-man roster.

Inside Linebacker: Tyler Matakevich, Ulysees Gilbert

Gilbert impressed throughout the preseason, while Matakevich was a player who remained the same. No better, no worse as he completes the last year of his rookie contract. Would the team consider ditching Matakevich for the rookie from Akron? Or do they both find a home on the 53?

Safety: Jordan Dangerfield, Marcus Allen

One of the more difficult positions to predict is what the Steelers do at safety. Kam Kelly is a lock, in my opinion, so who makes the team as safety No. 4?

Punter: Jordan Berry, Ian Berryman

Berry has won the job again, if you ask me, but does anyone see Berryman as providing enough on special teams for him to take over for the incumbent Berry?

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