2016 NFL Offseason: Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Year: 10-6)

2016 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
TE Ladarius Green, TE David Johnson, OT Ryan Harris, ILB Steven Johnson.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Artie Burns, S/CB Sean Davis, DT Javon Hargraves, OT Jerald Hawkins. Steelers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
TE Heath Miller, OT Kelvin Beachum, NT Steve McLendon, CB Brandon Boykin, CB Cortez Allen, S Will Allen, K Shaun Suisham.

2016 Pittsburgh Steelers Offense:
The Steelers received some bad news during the offseason when they learned that Martavis Bryant would be suspended the entire year after failing six drug tests. This is obviously a painful blow for the team, as Bryant is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the NFL. He hasn’t put it all together yet – he caught 50 passes for 765 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games last year – but his third NFL campaign seemed like an appropriate time for that to happen.

Fortunately for Pittsburgh, losing Bryant won’t halt their chances of winning the Super Bowl. They have so much fire power on offense to compensate for the suspension. Obviously, Ben Roethlisberger remains one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. He barely missed out on 4,000 passing yards last year, but only because he was absent for four games with an injury. He still completed 68 percent of his passes and maintained a sterling YPA of 8.4. At 34, he should still have several strong seasons left in the tank.

Though Bryant won’t be around, Roethlisberger will have his top play-maker at his disposal. Antonio Brown is arguably the best receiver in the NFL right now. His unbelievable route-running ability makes him extremely difficult to cover, and it would explain how he caught 136 balls for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015. His stats even dipped a bit when Roethlisberger was hurt, so he could’ve easily eclipsed the 2,000-yard barrier otherwise. Who starts across from Brown is another story. Markus Wheaton might be the favorite, but he’s an underwhelming option. Wheaton had a chance to shine last year in Bryant’s absence, but failed to do so. Pittsburgh coaches will be hoping that second-year Sammie Coates can emerge as the No. 2 wideout. Coates is a great athletic specimen with tons of upside, and he reportedly has been working extremely hard this offseason.

Bryant isn’t the only starter from last year who won’t be around. Heath Miller has retired after many years of great service. The Steelers wasted no time in finding a replacement, signing Ladarius Green away from the Chargers for $20 million over four seasons. The problem, however, is that Green underwent offseason ankle surgery. He might be ready for the opener, but he could always suffer some setbacks.

While the passing attack should still be potent, there’s no doubt that the running game will be powerful. Le’Veon Bell is one of the best backs in the NFL. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season and is two years removed from catching 83 passes. Bell, however, played in just six games in 2015, but De’Angelo Williams proved to be a viable backup. Williams mustered a 4.5 YPC average, though at 33, there’s a good chance he’ll regress this season.

The Steelers obviously have great play-makers everywhere, but if there’s one concern on offense, it’s the left tackle position. Kelvin Beachum, who had done a great job of protecting Roethlisberger’s blind side, signed with the Jaguars this offseason. Alejandro Villanueva will replace him, which is quite dubious. Villanueva struggled last year, and the Steelers tried to sign several left tackles this spring, but failed to do so. Meanwhile, Marcus Gilbert, slotted on the right side, is a very effective blocker.

Villanueva is the lone liability up front, as the Steelers have excellent blocking in the interior. David DeCastro and Ramon Foster form a great guard tandem, while center Maurkice Pouncey will be back after missing all of 2015 with a broken leg. Pouncey is one of the NFL’s top centers when on the field, but durability has been an issue for him; he has missed 31 games over the past three years.

2016 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense:
The Steelers should continue to have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, so the defense will determine how deep of a playoff run the team enjoys this year. If last season is any indication, Pittsburgh will have an early exit in January.

The secondary is the main culprit for why the defense couldn’t contain some of the better scoring units in the NFL. It was torched mercilessly, thanks to some poor play from both the cornerbacks and safeties. There was one quality player at the former position, as Ross Cockrell came out of nowhere to enjoy a quality season. Cockrell struggled to tackle, but covered quite well. However, he was all Pittsburgh had at corner – Brandon Boykin played well in the slot, but is no longer on the roster – so that prompted the front office to spend its first-round choice on Artie Burns. The problem is that Burns is a raw, albeit physically gifted player, who may not be ready to contribute as a rookie. William Gay will likely open as the starter across from Cockrell, with Senquez Golson stationed in the slot. Gay – not that there’s anything wrong with that – is just a marginal player at this stage of his career, while Golson missed his entire rookie campaign with a shoulder injury.

The safety position was in pretty rough shape last year as well. Michael Mitchell performed somewhat well, but Will Allen regressed in coverage. Allen is no longer on the roster, leaving the other safety spot up for grabs between Shamarko Thomas and second-round rookie Sean Davis. Thomas might be considered the favorite now because of experience, but he has yet to show anything in his three seasons as a pro. Davis is the better player and ultimately may win the job.

Pittsburgh’s other second-day choice was used on defense as well. Javon Hargrave was acquired to compete with Daniel McCullers for the nose tackle job. The spot was occupied by Steve McLendon last year, but McLendon struggled, so his loss isn’t very significant. McCullers was worse, however, so the athletic Hargrave might be able to land the gig quite easily.

Whether it’s McCullers or Hargrave, the starting nose tackle will be surrounded by a couple of quality defensive ends in Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. Heyward had a great 2015 campaign, while Tuitt, a 2014 second-rounder, has plenty of room for growth. The problem here, however, is that the Steelers are very thin at the position. No one performed well behind Hewyard and Tuitt last year, so an injury to one of them could be devastating.

Speaking of players not performing up to expectations, that can be used to describe Jarvis Jones thus far. Jones has been a colossal bust as a former first-round selection, while fellow opening-rounder Bud Dupree has more promise, as he had some positive moments during his rookie campaign (though he suffered through many negative ones, too). Pittsburgh’s top edge rusher, sadly, was James Harrison, who turned 38 this offseason, may regress rapidly sometime soon, so counting on him to lead the way for the pass-rushers isn’t very wise. Either Jones or Dupree will have to step up in 2016.

Harrison isn’t the only old player in the linebacking corps. Well, Lawrence Timmons may not be old, but at 30, he has declined recently. Perhaps he just had a bad year, but there’s a chance Timmons could continue to regress. It’s a good thing that the Steelers have Ryan Shazier though; Shazier battled through knee and shoulder injuries in 2015, but was still the better of the two linebackers. Shazier is a play-making, instinctive linebacker who should be the centerpiece of this defense for many years to come.

2016 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 87-75 as visitors in that time frame. They’re not bad at home either (116-48-1).

The Steelers had some major kicking woes last season – until they found Chris Boswell, who drilled 29-of-32 attempts, including 2-of-2 from 50-plus. He also missed just one of his 29 extra points.

Jordan Berry struggled as the team’s punter last year, ranking 24th in net yardage.

Though the Steelers scored once on a punt return, thanks to Antonio Brown, they were still outgained in that department. However, they were better than their foes by two yards on kickoffs.

The Steelers have a somewhat easy schedule, packed with games against the likes of the Eagles, Jets, Dolphins, Giants and Browns (twice).

2016 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.

2016 Pittsburgh Steelers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2016 Pittsburgh Steelers Analysis: The Steelers have one of the top offenses in the NFL, and if Ben Roethlisberger can stay healthy for most of the year, 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 (Tied 1st in AFC North)

NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2016 NFL Draft: The Steelers appear to have the fire power on offense to make a Super Bowl run. The problem has been their defense, particularly their secondary. The cornerback and safety spots must be shored up early in the 2016 NFL Draft. Pittsburgh also needs a couple of upgrades in the trenches, and a new backup quarterback wouldn’t hurt either.

2016 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Steelers often are able to obtain a top-ranked prospect who somehow falls to them late in the first round. Jarvis Jones, David DeCastro and Alvin Dupree all qualify as examples. That, however, did not happen this year, and Pittsburgh didn’t have a great option as usual. As a result, the team reached on the raw Artie Burns. The Miami product could fill a need if he develops, but there’s still a lot of work left to do with him. That’s not ideal for a first-round pick.

It got better for the Steelers after that, but only by default. Sean Davis was a fine pick in the second round, as he’ll further bolster Pittsburgh’s horrible secondary. Fourth-rounder Jerald Hawkins has some upside and could eventually start at left tackle. However, Javon Hargrave, taken in the third frame, was a confusing selection in terms of his fit into a 3-4 scheme.

Excluding seventh-rounder Tyler Matakevich, who actually might have been the steal of the entire draft, the Steelers didn’t score higher than a B+ with any of their picks. Only two choices were worse than a “B,” but one of those happens to be the No. 1 selection, so that carries extra weight.

The Steelers deserve an underwhelming C+. This certainly wasn’t a horrible haul, but they could’ve done much better with their 2016 class.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

25. Artie Burns, CB, Miami C- Grade
The Steelers typically take highly ranked players who fall to them. Think Alvin Dupree, David DeCastro and Jarvis Jones. I figured they’d be all over Myles Jack, but they went with a different strategy this year – reaching for a second-round prospect. Artie Burns is certainly a second-round player. He has great athleticism and size, but he’s pretty raw for a player. That’s pretty much the definition of a second-round prospect; not someone worth grabbing at No. 25 overall. There were better players available for the Steelers, such as Kendall Fuller, Jarran Reed or Andrew Billings. I don’t like this pick at all.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

58. Sean Davis, S/CB, Maryland B Grade
This is a lot better than the first-round pick. Sean Davis is a versatile player who might be able to play both cornerback and safety. He’s a big prospect who has tons of athleticism and upside. Davis needs to work on becoming a better football player, as he’s very raw, but he could fill a big need in the secondary.

89. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State C Grade
Javon Hargrave makes sense as a third-round prospect. He was productive at a lower level, and he had the athleticism measured at the Combine to push him into Day 2. I just don’t know how he fits into Pittsburgh’s defense. I don’t think he’s a good fit in the 3-4, so he may have issues transitioning into Pittsburgh’s scheme.

123. Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU B Grade
I had Jerald Hawkins mocked much earlier than the fourth round, but that’s where I ultimately settled on him. Hawkins has a solid skill set, but he struggled this past season. He made the mistake of declaring early, and then he further hurt himself by testing poorly at the Combine. It’s possible, however, that the Steelers could develop him to eventually become a capable starter.

220. Travis Feeney, LB, Washington B+ Grade
It seems like the Steelers envision Travis Feeney as their special-teams ace, which is fine for the penultimate pick in the sixth round. Feeney played outstanding special teams at Washington and also was solid at linebacker, so perhaps he has some sort of future on defense. His superb athleticism should help in those matters.

229. DeMarcus Ayers, WR, Houston B Grade
DeMarcus Ayers was extremely productive in Houston’s offense, but butchered his draft stock by running a 4.69 40. That scared plenty of teams off, but he’s absolutely worth taking in the final round. Other receivers have recovered from a slow 40 time, after all.

246. Tyler Matakevich, ILB, Temple A+ Grade
This is my favorite pick in the seventh round. It would not surprise me at all if Tyler Matakevich not only starts, but becomes a stellar player for the Steelers or some other team in this league. There are few linebackers in this class who have better instincts than he does, as he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He enjoyed a prolific career at Temple, but dropped because he tested poorly at the Combine. However, there have been plenty of defensive players who struggled in Indianapolis and then went on to have great careers. Matakevich could be the next, and the Steelers are getting outstanding value as a result. Some team could’ve taken him in the third round, and it wouldn’t have been embarrassing.

Season Summary:
The Steelers had one too many injuries. They lost Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, DeAngelo Williams, Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum at certain points this year, and most of them were out in the divisional round of the playoffs. Despite this, the Steelers went toe to toe with the No. 1 seed Broncos, and probably would’ve won had their third-string running back not fumbled in the fourth quarter.

Offseason Moves:
  • Steelers sign TE David Johnson
  • Steelers re-sign QB Bruce Gradkowski
  • Steelers cut CB Cortez Allen
  • Steelers sign DE/DT Ricardo Matthews
  • Steelers sign ILB Steven Johnson
  • Steelers re-sign OT Ryan Harris
  • Steelers sign TE Ladarius Green
  • Steelers re-sign G Ramon Foster
  • Steelers re-sign CB William Gay
  • Steelers re-sign WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
  • Steelers re-sign S Robert Golden
  • Steelers announce retirement of TE Heath Miller

    Team Needs:
    1. Cornerback: Addressing the secondary is Pittsburgh’s No. 1 priority. Two of the team’s top cornerbacks – William Gay, Brandon Boykin – happen to be impending free agents, and the Steelers already needed help here. Re-signed William Gay

    2. Safety: This position must be addressed as well. Will Allen is a regressing, 34-year-old free agent, so he’ll have to be replaced, potentially with someone in the first round. Re-signed Robert Golden

    3. Nose Tackle: The Steelers struggled at times against the rush because of their weakness at nose tackle. Steve McLendon didn’t perform well. I could see the front office using a second-day choice on a huge run-stuffer.

    4. Outside Linebacker: James Harrison won’t be around much longer, while there’s no telling if Jarvis Jones and Alvin Dupree will ever live up to their first-round billing.

    5. Inside Linebacker: Pittsburgh fans reading this site have defended Lawrence Timmons. I’ve praised him in the past, but nearing 30, Timmons has shown signs of slowing down. He didn’t perform well in 2015 at all.

    6. Offensive Tackle: Ben Roethlisberger experienced life without Kelvin Beachum, and it wasn’t pretty. Beachum will be heading for free agency in March. If he’s not re-signed, the Steelers could use an early draft choice on a blind-side blocker. Signed Ryan Harris

    7. Guard: Ramon Foster is another talented free-agent lineman who should be retained. Re-signed Ramon Foster

    8. Tight End: Heath Miller announced his retirement. Jesse James, a 2015 fifth-rounder, has some potential, but he’s an unknown. With that in mind, Pittsburgh could stand to add a veteran tight end as an insurance policy. Signed Ladarius Green

    9. Center Depth: Cody Wallace didn’t exactly play well in place of the injured Maurkice Pouncey. A better backup would help.

    10. Backup Quarterback: The Steelers barely survived without Ben Roethlisberger because of their terrible reserve quarterbacks. The front office will have to add a better backup.

    11. Punter: Jordan Berry absolutely murdered the Steelers in the playoffs with some poor punts at Denver. He’ll need to be upgraded.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2016 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Steelers (4 years, $20 million)

      Ladarius Green was never able to officially pass Antonio Gates on the depth chart, but perhaps he was one season away from doing so. Green, who is highly athletic, performed well when starting for the suspended Gates at the beginning of 2015.

    2. Ryan Harris, OT, Broncos. Age: 31. — Signed with Steelers
    3. Ricardo Mathews, DE/DT, Chargers. Age: 29. — Signed with Steelers
    4. David Johnson, TE, Chargers. Age: 29. — Signed with Steelers
    5. Steven Johnson, ILB, Titans. Age: 28. — Signed with Steelers

    Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Ramon Foster, G, Steelers. Age: 30.
      Re-signed with Steelers (3 years)

      Ramon Foster has done a great job of improving his game, as he has gone from a passable starter to a strong blocker over the past few years. Foster turned 30 in early January, so he should be able to perform on a high level for about three more years.

    2. Kelvin Beachum, OT, Steelers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Jaguars

      Kelvin Beachum is a talented left tackle who would be rated a bit higher than this if he wasn’t coming off a torn ACL that he sustained in mid-October. There’s a chance he could be available for the 2016 opener, however.

    3. Brandon Boykin, CB, Steelers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Panthers

      The Steelers had one of the top nickel corners in the NFL at their disposal, yet they inexplicably didn’t use him for most of the year. Overwhelmed defensive coordinator Keith Butler finally began utilize him in December, and it paid off big time, as Brandon Boykin performed extremely well.

    4. William Gay, CB, Steelers. Age: 31.
      Re-signed with Steelers (3 years)

      Not that there’s anything wrong with William Gay, but he struggled at the beginning of the 2015 campaign. He improved as the year progressed and was playing well to close out the season. Unfortunately, he turned 31 in early January.

    5. Will Allen, S, Steelers. Age: 34.
      Will Allen’s coverage skills have declined recently. The fact that he turns 34 in June is not good news.

    6. Robert Golden, S, Steelers. Age: 25.
      Re-signed with Steelers (3 years, $5 million)

      Robert Golden ha some potential. He looked good when replacing Will Allen for a few games in October. He shined particularly in run support.

    7. Steve McLendon, NT, Steelers. Age: 30.
      Signed with Jets

      Steve McLendon is just a mediocre nose tackle who is just fine in terms of stuffing the run. The Steelers can do better than him, but he’s not terrible.

    8. Will Johnson, FB, Steelers. Age: 26. — Signed with Giants (2 years)
    9. Sean Spence, ILB, Steelers. Age: 26. — Signed with Titans
    10. Cam Thomas, DE/DT, Steelers. Age: 29.
    11. Cortez Allen, CB, Steelers. Age: 27.
    12. Antwon Blake, CB, Steelers. Age: 26. — Signed with Titans (1 year)
    13. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Steelers. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Steelers (3 years)
    14. Bruce Gradkowski, QB, Steelers. Age: 32. — Re-signed with Steelers
    15. Jordan Todman, RB, Steelers. Age: 26. — Signed with Colts
    16. Clifton Geathers, DE/DT, Steelers. Age: 28.
    17. Byron Stingly, OT, Steelers. Age: 27. — Signed with Giants
    18. David Nelson, WR, Steelers. Age: 29.
    19. QBDK, QB, Steelers. Age: 36.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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