2015 NFL Offseason: Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Year: 11-5)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Tajh Boyd, RB DeAngelo Williams.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/OLB Alvin Dupree, CB Senquez Golson, WR Sammie Coates, CB Doran Grant, TE Jesse James. Steelers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR Lance Moore, DE/DT Brett Keisel, DE/OLB Jason Worilds, CB Ike Taylor, CB Brice McCain, S Troy Polamalu.

2015 Pittsburgh Steelers Offense:
Ben Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls in his career, yet the 2014 campaign in which he was one-and-done in the playoffs was arguably his best season as a pro. Roethlisberger set career-highs in completion percentage (67.1), yards (4,952) and touchdown passes (32). He also tossed just nine interceptions. Roethlisberger is at the top of his game right now, and there’s not much doubt that he’s one of the four best signal-callers in the NFL.

Having said that, Roethlisberger can’t take all the credit, as the front office has done a great job of surrounding him with worthy talent. Antonio Brown has developed into a top-three NFL receiver, as he amazingly hasn’t caught fewer than five passes in any game in the past two years. He’s the most consistent receiver in the NFL by a wide margin, and no one runs better routes than him. The opposition simply can’t cover him. And now, opposing defenses have to worry about other weapons as well.

Martavis Bryant didn’t see any action until Week 7, but he was able to post some big performances when given the chance. For example, he caught five passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns in an upset victory over the Colts. Bryant is a massive (6-4, 211), athletic freak, and the sky is the limit for him. The concern with him entering the NFL was that he wouldn’t be able to put the mental part of his game together, but he apparently has proven his critics wrong. Bryant could take a huge leap forward in 2015 as a consequence. Meanwhile, third-round rookie Sammie Coates is another height-weight-speed freak who could also break his way into the lineup.

Roethlisberger’s other weapons include Heath Miller, who caught 66 passes for 761 yards in 2014, and Le’Veon Bell, who has emerged as perhaps the best, most-complete running back in the NFL. Bell does it all – he rushed for 1,361 yards in 2014, caught a whopping 83 balls, and pass protected extremely well on third downs – but he’s slated to miss the first three games of the 2015 campaign because of a suspension. Bell is attempting to appeal the penalty, and the Steelers will be praying that he’s successful. The offense simply couldn’t get anything going in a playoff defeat to Baltimore, all because of Bell’s absence. Bell’s elite talents on third downs were missed, which would explain why Roethlisberger saw so much pressure in his face.

Speaking of pressure, Pittsburgh’s offensive line is pretty solid. All five starters will be returning, with the front once again being anchored by Maurkice Pouncey, who has emerged as an elite center. He’ll be surrounded by right guard David DeCastro, a quality blocker in all regards, and left guard Ramon Foster, who is passable as a starter even though he might be seen as the Steelers’ worst lineman.

Pittsburgh’s tackles are pretty decent as well. Kelvin Beachum, manning the blind side, struggled in the defeat against Baltimore, but had a quality regular season, surrendering just four sacks if one ugly performance versus Tampa Bay is disregarded. Marcus Gilbert, meanwhile allowed just three sacks following Week 2.

2015 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense:
On the surface, Pittsburgh’s offseason mirrored what San Francisco went through. No, the general manager didn’t sabotage an entire year just to get rid of a top-tier coach, but the reference is to three defenders who retired. While the 49ers watched Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Chris Borland walk away from the game, the Steelers said farewell to Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Jason Worilds.

Unlike the 49ers’ situation, Pittsburgh knew that two would retire. In fact, the front office forced Polamalu into calling it quits. The declining Polamalu simply cost too much, and getting rid of such a legendary player would have been a terrible PR move. The crazy part is that despite Polamalu’s regression, he was still one of the Steelers’ top defensive backs this past season. That’s only by default, however, as many of the other members of the secondary, including Taylor, couldn’t cover anyone.

With that in mind, the Steelers made sure to add multiple upgrades via the draft. They used their second-round choice on Senquez Golson out of Ole Miss. While Golson was considered a reach, it seems as though he’ll be able to start right away. He’ll potentially be penciled in across from William Gay, who was the only Steeler defensive back better than Polamalu this past season. Fourth-round rookie Doran Grant will fight for playing time, as will Antwon Blake, who looked decent at times in 2014.

Meanwhile, the safety position will feature a new starter in Shamarko Thomas next to Michael Mitchell. Thomas was chosen in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, but has barely seen any action in his career thus far, so he’s an unknown quantity. Mitchell, on the other hand, has plenty of bad tape. He struggled in his first season with the Steelers, though a groin injury was blamed for that. If he continues to play poorly, the team could jettison him next spring.

Pittsburgh will need its pass rush to be better so that the secondary doesn’t struggle as much. The front office had that in mind when it chose Alvin Dupree in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Dupree is a highly athletic pass-rusher who was projected to be chosen in the top 10. The Steelers managed to get themselves a steal, and perhaps a worthy replacement for Worilds, who walked away from the game so unexpectedly. Outside linebacker was considered a big need before Worilds quit, given that Jarvis Jones has failed to live up to expectations. The Steelers will give Jones one more chance, but the fans shouldn’t hold their breath. James Harrison was re-signed, so Jones could once again sit behind the veteran, who surprisingly had enough left in the tank last season to record 5.5 sacks, despite the limited action in 11 games.

The other areas of the Steelers’ defense will remain the same, for the most part. There’s one change up front, as Brett Keisel was not re-signed. The defensive line is led by Cameron Heyward, who came through with a dominant 2014 campaign. He logged 7.5 sacks, a high number for a five-technique, and also held up against the run very well. Heyward will be joined by solid, run-stuffing nose tackle Steve McLendon and 2014 second-rounder Stephon Tuitt. The former Notre Dame prospect had a dismal rookie campaign, but he has the skill set to make a jump in 2015.

Rounding out the defense, Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier will start at inside linebacker. The underappreciated Timmons is still one of the better players at his position, while Shazier barely saw the field last year because of multiple leg injuries. Having the speedy Shazier on the field will be a big boost for Pittsburgh’s defense this upcoming season.

2015 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule and Intangibles:
Excluding New England, no one in the AFC has a better road record than Pittsburgh since 1996; the Steelers are 82-70 as visitors in that time frame. They’re not bad at home either (110-46-1).

Shaun Suisham is one of the better short-range kickers in the NFL, but he struggles from long distance. He’s just 4-of-13 from 50-plus since 2008.

Punter Brad Wing finished 20th in net yardage last season, but didn’t get many of his attempts inside the opposing 20.

Pittsburgh didn’t defend kickoffs very well – a team scored once against them – but it was at least strong on punt returns, as it found the end zone once because of Antonio Brown.

The Steelers have a somewhat difficult schedule. In addition to battling the Ravens and Bengals twice, they also have to take on the Patriots, Chargers (road), Seahawks, Colts and Broncos.

2015 Pittsburgh Steelers Rookies:
Go here for the Steelers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2015 Pittsburgh Steelers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 Pittsburgh Steelers Analysis: The Steelers have one of the top offenses in the NFL, and if Ben Roethlisberger continues to play as well as he did in 2014, the team could make an extremely deep playoff push. However, the defense is still a major question mark, and it could be the reason why Roethlisberger fails to claim his third Super Bowl ring.

Projection: 10-6 (2nd in AFC North)

NFL Draft Team Grade: A- Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: The Steelers will do what they usually do. They’ll wait for the best-available players to drop to them. I imagine they’ll be able to land someone like Randy Gregory, Shane Ray or Landon Collins at No. 22. That’ll allow them to address the cornerback position a bit later.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: It’s amazing how, year after year, the Steelers manage to land a talented prospect who falls to them. I initially thought it would be Landon Collins, but then shifted my focus to either Randy Gregory or Shane Ray. At least I had the right position; I did not expect Alvin Dupree to be available. His fall was bizarre to watch. Sure, he’s a bit raw, but his athleticism and upside are off the charts. The Steelers managed to obtain a player who could be a monstrous pass rusher in two seasons.

Many of Pittsburgh’s other selections were solid. Third-rounder Sammie Coates was a steal, as he was once discussed as a potential first-round prospect. Cornerback Doran Grant also provided good value in the fourth frame. The next three choices – Jesse James, Leterrius Walton and Anthony Chickillo – filled needs and addressed holes on the roster, and they all could have gone earlier than where they were selected.

The one blemish in the Steelers’ class was second-rounder Senquez Golson, whom I had in the fifth frame. Golson doesn’t fit the size and athletic prerequisites for Pittsburgh’s secondary, so the selection was curious. But outside of that, the Steelers had an excellent draft.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

22. Alvin Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky: A+ Grade
Wow, how does this continue to happen? It seems like every year, great prospects slip in the draft and fall into Pittsburgh’s lap. I thought it was going to be Shane Ray or Randy Gregory, but it turned out to be another pass-rusher. Alvin Dupree was getting top-10 buzz prior to the draft. I thought that was a bit too high for him, but I figured the No. 13 spot was the right area for him. I thought the Saints would pick him when they were on the clock, but apparently not. Dupree has tremendous upside and should provide a big boost in terms of getting to the quarterback.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

56. Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss: C- Grade
Call me shocked that the Steelers chose Senquez Golson over Alex Carter or P.J. Williams… or a bunch of other cornerbacks. First of all, Golson is just 5-foot-9, so he doesn’t have the size Pittsburgh usually likes at the position. Second, Golson was a Round 4-5 prospect. This is too early for him, especially with so many better players available at the position.

87. Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn: A Grade
Man, I’ve correctly mocked all three positions to the Steelers, but I’ve had the wrong players. I love this pick though, as the Steelers are selecting another talented player who dropped into their lap. Sammie Coates easily could’ve gone in the second round, but dropped because he, well, drops a lot of passes. That’s something that can be coached up. Coates’ athleticism, on the other hand, cannot. He has major bust potential, but his ceiling is extremely high.

121. Doran Grant, CB, Ohio State: B+ Grade
Another surprising cornerback pick. Doran Grant neither has the size (5-10) nor the athleticism that the Steelers usually look for in their cornerbacks. However, I think this is a solid choice. Doran Grant provides some value, as he could have gone at the end of the third round.

160. Jesse James, TE, Penn State: B+ Grade
I mocked Jesse James to the Steelers at this spot because I thought he made a lot of sense for the team. James is a great fit in Pittsburgh’s offense, and he obviously makes sense at this range. James, a good athlete, might be able to take over for Heath Miller in a couple of years.

199. Leterrius Walton, DE/DT, Central Michigan: A Grade
Good players just somehow fall to the Steelers all the time. Leterrius Walton was a player I had slotted in the fourth round. He was highly productive at Central Michigan and could eventually emerge as a starter on Pittsburgh’s front. In the meantime, he fills a need as a depth player.

212. Anthony Chickillo, DE, Miami: A Grade
The best teams get better in the draft because the “lesser” organizations do stupid things. How did Anthony Chickillo fall to the Steelers at the end of Round 6? I had him atop the fourth frame, as Chickillo was both productive at Miami and also athletic at the Combine. He should be able to make the roster.

239. Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville: A- Grade
Some had Gerod Holliman in the third round, but we were hearing that he was going to drop. I didn’t expect him to fall this far, however, and the Steelers ended up getting a potential steal. Holliman’s poor measurables really sunk his draft stock, but he could end up sticking for the Steelers, who needed to find another safety.

Season Summary:
The Steelers looked great heading into the playoffs, having won their final four games of the regular season. Unfortunately, an injury to Le’Veon Bell ruined their chances; without Bell’s work as a pass protector, Ben Roethlisberger was under heavy pressure against the Ravens, and Pittsburgh was blown out as a consequence.

Offseason Moves:
  • Lions sign WR Lance Moore
  • Steelers announce retirement of CB Ike Taylor
  • Steelers re-sign S Will Allen
  • Steelers announce retirement of S Troy Polamalu
  • Steelers re-sign CB Antwon Blake
  • Steelers re-sign WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
  • Steelers re-sign DE/OLB James Harrison
  • Steelers sign RB DeAngelo Williams
  • Dolphins sign CB Brice McCain
  • Steelers announce retirement of DE/OLB Jason Worilds
  • Steelers re-sign TE Matt Spaeth
  • Steelers cut DE/DT Brett Keisel
  • Steelers re-sign ILB Arthur Moats
  • Steelers sign QB Tajh Boyd
  • Steelers cut WR Lance Moore

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Cornerbacks: There’s no question that Pittsburgh’s greatest need is at the cornerback position. The team’s corners, save for William Gay, were thoroughly embarrassed last year, especially Cortez Allen. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Steelers use the No. 22 overall selection on a corner. Another corner will have to be obtained for depth purposes unless all of the free agents are re-signed.

    2. Two Rush Linebackers: Jason Worilds absolutely needs to be re-signed, as he was the team’s most consistent pass-rusher last year. After that, the Steelers will need to find another player who can get after the quarterback; they can’t rely on James Harrison again, and Jarvis Jones has been a bust thus far. A second-day selection would suffice. Re-signed James Harrison

    3. Right Tackle: Pittsburgh’s offensive line has improved markedly over the years, but the team still has a huge hole at right tackle, where Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams both struggled in 2014. A second-day pick can be used on help.

    4. Safety: Mike Mitchell was brought over from Carolina to improve the secondary. He was woeful, but he blamed it on a groin injury that he needed surgery for after the season. Mitchell could be better next year, but the Steelers should add competition just in case.

    5. Defensive End: Brett Keisel said he’s thinking about retirement. He’s coming off a torn tricep, so if he moves on, some competition should be acquired for Stephon Tuitt, who didn’t show much in his rookie campaign.

    6. Running Back Depth: The Steelers need a backup running back who can handle himself well in pass protection, just in case Le’Veon Bell gets hurt again. Signed DeAngelo Williams

    7. Quarterback Depth: Why is Bruce Gradkowski the team’s No. 2 quarterback? The Steelers really should find a competent backup.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers. Age: 32. — Signed with Steelers

    Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Jason Worilds, DE/OLB, Steelers. Age: 27.
      Announced retirement

      Jason Worilds doesn’t have much starting experience, but he was Pittsburgh’s top pass-rusher this season. He had 7.5 sacks, giving him 15.5 over the past two years. He wasn’t great in run support, but he was one of the few Steelers to put constant pressure on the quarterback.

    2. Will Johnson (RFA), FB, Steelers. Age: 25.
      Re-signed with Steelers

      Will Johnson isn’t a great fullback by any means, but he does a fairly decent job of opening up holes for Le’Veon Bell.

    3. James Harrison, DE/OLB, Steelers. Age: 37.
      Re-signed with Steelers (2 years)

      James Harrison was dragged out of retirement in late September. He wasn’t expected to make that much of an impact, but he was exceptional in 2014. Playing about two-thirds of the snaps, he generated a good amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and held up well against the run. He’ll be 37 in May, unfortunately.

    4. Antwon Blake (RFA), CB, Steelers. Age: 25.
      Re-signed with Steelers (1 year, $1.5 million)

      Antwon Blake played more as the 2014 season progressed. He had some nice outings, particularly against Baltimore in a Sunday night affair. Just 25 in August, Blake will be able to make some improvements to his game.

    5. Arthur Moats, ILB, Steelers. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Steelers (3 years)
    6. Brice McCain, CB, Steelers. Age: 28. — Signed with Dolphins (2 years, $5.5 million)
    7. Brett Keisel, DE/DT, Steelers. Age: 36.
    8. Lance Moore, WR, Steelers. Age: 32. — Signed with Lions
    9. Matt Spaeth, TE, Steelers. Age: 31. — Re-signed with Steelers (2 years)
    10. Ike Taylor, CB, Steelers. Age: 35.
    11. Will Allen, S, Steelers. Age: 33. — Re-signed with Steelers
    12. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Steelers. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Steelers (1 year)
    13. Michael Palmer, TE, Steelers. Age: 27.
    14. Robert Golden (RFA), S, Steelers. Age: 25.


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