2018 NFL Offseason: Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Year: 13-3)

2018 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
LB Jon Bostic, S Morgan Burnett, S Nat Berhe.
Early Draft Picks:
S/LB Terrell Edmunds, WR James Washington, QB Mason Rudolph, Chukwuma Okorafor, S/LB Marcus Allen, TE Jaylen Samuels. Steelers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR Martavis Bryant, OT Chris Hubbard, DE/OLB Arthur Moats, S Mike Mitchell, S Robert Golden, S J.J. Wilcox, S William Gay.

2018 Pittsburgh Steelers Offense:
Ben Roethlisberger certainly had the Steelers worried last year. He mentioned the possibility of retirement on numerous occasions, and he even told the media that he didn’t have “it” anymore following a horrendous, five-interception outing against the Jaguars. Roethlisberger, however, ultimately led his team to the divisional round of the playoffs and eventually changed his tune about the rest of his playing career, suggesting that he could play three more years.

This is obviously great news for the Steelers, who will always have a chance to advance deep into the playoffs as long as an effective Roethlisberger is at the helm. Roethlisberger will continue to have some great weapons at his disposal, including Antonio Brown, arguably the best receiver in the NFL. No. 2 wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster impressed as a second-round rookie last year, hauling in 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Just 22 in November, the future is extremely bright for Smith-Schuster. He won’t have to worry about Martavis Bryant taking targets away from him after a trade with Oakland, though Pittsburgh did use another second-rounder on Oklahoma State’s James Washington this past April.

Meanwhile, Le’Veon Bell figures to once again shoulder a heavy workload once he ends his impending holdout. Bell is one of the premier running backs in the NFL, and it could be argued that he’s the best player at his position in the entire league. Bell rushed for 1,291 yards last year and caught a ridiculous 85 passes. However, there is some slight concern beyond the holdout, as 400-plus touches is a very high total. The Steelers probably should’ve acquired a capable backup to ease Bell’s workload, but the ineffective James Conner will continue to be the team’s top reserve at the position.

The Steelers have explosive play-makers to complement their future Hall of Fame quarterback, but the offensive line is also a primary reason why Pittsburgh’s offense is so dynamic. Both tackles are great, as Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert are terrific bookends. Gilbert missed some action last year with various injuries, but the Steelers didn’t regress at all because Chris Hubbard was a solid backup. Hubbard, now with the Browns, will be missed if one of Villanueva or Gilbert goes down.

The interior of the offensive line is also stellar. Right guard David DeCastro is the best blocker in the group, while center Maurkice Pouncey is talented, although he’s coming off a down year. The one potential liability is left guard Ramon Foster. The 32-year-old used to be a great lineman, and he still could be, but age and injuries have become factors. Foster dealt with a back problem this past season, which caused him to struggle quite a bit.

2018 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense:
Heading into December, it appeared as though the Steelers possibly should’ve been considered the favorites to win the Super Bowl. That completely changed in a fateful Monday night game against the Bengals. Ryan Shazier suffered a horrendous back injury that threatened his ability to ever walk again. Thankfully, Shazier has since made a great recovery, even walking gingerly during the 2018 NFL Draft. However, the damage was done. Shazier’s absence ruined Pittsburgh’s chances of winning the Super Bowl; the team struggled to beat mediocre opponents following the injury, and then predictably lost right away in the playoffs to a pedestrian Jaguars squad that was nearly defeated by the Bills at home the week before.

Shazier was considered one of the top linebackers in the NFL. Without him, the Steelers had major issues stopping the run. They surrendered just 17.5 points per game when Shazier was on the field, yet that figure ballooned to 26.7 after he went down, even though five of the six quarterbacks they battled in Shazier’s absence were Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, T.J. Yates, DeShone Kizer and Blake Bortles. They went 4-2 in the six games without Shazier, but barely beat some sub-par opponents like the Bengals and Ravens. The only squad they vanquished convincingly was the Texans, who were starting their third-string quarterback.

The Steelers were expected to find a viable replacement for Shazier this offseason, but that never happened. They mostly whiffed in free agency and missed out on both Leighton Vander Esch and Rashaan Evans, two inside linebackers who had a slight chance of falling to them at No. 28 overall in the draft. Their two starters at the position will be Vince Williams and Jon Bostic, two very mediocre players. For this reason, it’s very likely that Pittsburgh’s defense will struggle once again in 2018.

With Vander Esch and Evans off the board, the first-round pick was used on safety Terrell Edmunds. This was widely considered a reach, as Edmunds was considered a possible third-round prospect. Still, Edmunds is expected to start right away along with newly acquired Morgan Burnett. Formerly of the Packers, Burnett is a very talented, versatile player who should be a big upgrade in the secondary.

Rounding out the defensive backfield is a trio of talented cornerbacks. Joe Haden was a nice addition last offseason, as he performed well in coverage in his first year with the Steelers. The former Brown missed some tackles, but was solid overall. He’ll once again start across from former first-round pick Artie Burns, who has evolved into a capable cover man, though he also has some tackling problems. Mike Hilton, meanwhile, did a good job in the slot last year.

The strength of Pittsburgh’s defense is the defensive front, as Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are stellar five-techniques. Both are still young, so no regression is expected at any point in the near future. Nose tackle Javon Hargrave could’ve been upgraded, but he wasn’t a liability.

Rounding out the rest of the front seven are edge rushers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Watt impressed as a rookie last year, logging seven sacks. This broke the trend of former Pittsburgh first-round edge rushers disappointing. This would include Dupree, who hasn’t evolved into the player the Steelers were hoping to get when they selected him 22nd overall in 2015. Pittsburgh didn’t find a potential replacement for Dupree, so he’ll have one more chance to eclipse his career-high mark of six sacks.

2018 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule and Intangibles:
Excluding New England, no one in the AFC has a better road record than Pittsburgh since 2004; the Steelers are 72-47 as visitors in that time frame. They’re not bad at home either (89-33).

The Steelers had some major kicking woes in 2015 – until they found Chris Boswell, who drilled 29-of-32 attempts, including 2-of-2 from 50-plus. He was even better in 2017, going 35-of-38. He was a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond 50.

Jordan Berry regressed in the net-punting ranking, dropping from 15th to 23rd this past year.

Pittsburgh must improve on special teams, as it was outgained on both punt and kickoff returns in both 2016 and 2017.

The Steelers have a balanced schedule. They have easy games inside the terrible AFC North, but some of their non-divisional foes include the Chiefs, Falcons, Saints, Panthers, Chargers and Patriots.

2018 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.

2018 Pittsburgh Steelers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2018 Pittsburgh Steelers Analysis: The Steelers fell apart last year when Ryan Shazier suffered his horrible back injury. Considering that they didn’t properly replace him this offseason, they can probably forget about advancing to Super Bowl LIII. The good news for them, however, is that because the rest of the AFC North is in shambles, they should reach the playoffs once again.

Projection: 8-8 (1st in AFC North)

2017 Projection: 11-5. 2017 Actual Result: 13-3.
2016 Projection: 10-6. 2016 Actual Result: 11-5.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C- Grade

Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Steelers absolutely must find a new inside linebacker to replace Ryan Shazier. After that, they should find other upgrades to a defense that couldn’t stop Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco or even Brett Hundley to close out the year.

2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Pittsburgh was rumored to be enamored with Leighton Vander Esch, but he was long gone by the time they were on the clock. So was Rashaan Evans. With those two prospects gone, it didn’t seem like the Steelers had a concrete plan in place, as they were forced into selecting Round 2-3 prospect Terrell Edmunds at No. 28 overall. Edmunds is a safety-linebacker tweener, and it’s unclear which position he’ll be able to play successfully. He’s not the sort of prospect who should be chosen in the opening frame.

The Edmunds pick set the tone for what was a disappointing draft for the Steelers. Mason Rudolph was a waste of a third-round selection, as the Steelers haven’t learned their lesson from Landry Jones; Big XII quarterbacks with pop-gun arms aren’t going to be successful in the pros, and Rudolph will fail in a similar fashion. The other third-round choice was spent on tackle Chukwuma Okoafor, who has talent, but lacks passion for football.

It wasn’t all bad for the Steelers. Receiver James Washington was a decent choice in the second frame, and there were quality selections made on Day 3. Fifth-rounder Jaylen Samuels, a Swiss Army Knife player who can be used at multiple positions, was especially intriguing.

Despite these positive late picks, Pittsburgh can’t be graded favorably. There were major reaches, and the defense wasn’t addressed very well. It appears as though Pittsburgh’s severe defensive struggles from late last season will continue into 2018.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

28. Terrell Edmunds, LB/S, Virginia Tech Kielbasa-Mode Grade
I didn’t get to use Kielbasa-Mode for the Seahawks’ pick, so here we go! What a wonderful night to have a second Millen grade.

This is a mega reach. Teams expected Edmunds to be available in the second, maybe even third round. He’s not his brother; he’s not nearly the athlete, nor the player. Yet, the Steelers are taking him because they have an immense need at linebacker – I imagine he’ll make the move there, much like Deone Bucannon – and all of the first-round prospects at the position were taken already. Selecting Edmunds over someone like Harold Landry seems insane to me.

60. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State B+ Grade
The Steelers struck gold with the previous second-round receiver they took in JuJu Smith-Schuster. They needed to find another wideout in the wake of the Martavis Bryant trade. Washington could have been chosen early in the second round, so there’s a big of value here with this selection. I think the Steelers had better options like Justin Reid, but I think this is a good pick.

76. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State D Grade
Ugh, you’d think the Steelers would’ve learned their lesson from Landry Jones. How many lollipop throwers from the Big XII do they need to draft before they know to stay away from them? I mean, why not just trade for Bryce Petty while they’re at it? Mason Rudolph wasn’t even one of the top two quarterbacks available. I wouldn’t absolutely hate this if the Steelers didn’t trade up, but they did, needlessly.

92. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan C Grade
Chukwuma Okorafor is one of those “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane” sort of players. He’s an athletic, powerful tackle who should be a much better player than he is, but he’s not motivated. The Steelers might just be able to coach him up, so I don’t hate this pick. However, Okorafor has a high chance of busting.

148. Marcus Allen, S/LB, Penn State A- Grade
The Steelers just obtained the best Penn State safety, though Troy Apke was taken earlier. Marcus Allen is similar to Terrell Edmunds in that he’s a safety who may have to move to linebacker in the pros. Either way, Pittsburgh needed help at both positions, so I like this pick.

165. Jaylen Samuels, TE/RB, N.C. State A Grade
I thought Jaylen Samuels could go in the third round, but it seems like he fell to the fifth frame because he doesn’t have a natural position. However, Samuels is an athletic player who is a Swiss Army Knife type who can contribute in multiple facets. I love this pick for Pittsburgh.

246. Joshua Frazier, NT, Alabama B Grade
Joshua Frazier might be able to stick as a backup nose tackle. He was a backup for Alabama because of the talent there, but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if he were able to make the 53-man roster.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Steelers were expected to challenge the Patriots in the AFC Championship, but they never got there because they looked past the Jaguars. They failed to realize that their defense wasn’t nearly as potent without Ryan Shazier.

Offseason Moves:
  • Steelers cut S J.J. Wilcox
  • Steelers sign S Nat Berhe
  • Steelers sign S Morgan Burnett
  • Steelers sign LB Jon Bostic
  • Steelers cut S Mike Mitchell
  • Steelers cut S Robert Golden
  • Steelers cut S William Gay

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Inside Linebackers: Ryan Shazier may never play football again, which is a shame because he was a tremendous player. Unless he can make a recovery, the Steelers will have to find a replacement for him. The thing is, they already needed an inside linebacker before Shazier’s injury. Signed Jon Bostic

    2. Safety: Here’s another defensive problem area. Sean Davis was selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but he’s been a major liability thus far. He could be replaced early in this April’s draft. Signed Morgan Burnett and Nat Berhe

    3. Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger has discussed retirement. He could decide to hang up his cleats this offseason, so the Steelers will have to find a new quarterback to replace him soon. Perhaps they’ll move up in the draft, much like the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes last year.

    4. Running Back: Le’Veon Bell is obviously an important free agent who will have to be franchised, re-signed or replaced.

    5. Edge-Rushing Depth: James Harrison is no longer with the team, so the Steelers will have to find someone to play behind T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree.

    6. Offensive Line Depth: Top blocking reserve Chris Hubbard is set to hit free agency.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2018 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Morgan Burnett, S, Packers. Age: 29.
      Signed with Steelers

      Green Bay’s defense has been atrocious in recent seasons, but don’t blame Morgan Burnett. The 29-year-old is the centerpiece of Green Bay’s defense, playing numerous positions. He should be able to perform on an extremely high level for at least three more years.

    2. Jon Bostic, ILB, Colts. Age: 27.
      Signed with Steelers

      Jon Bostic was a disappointment as a second-round pick in 2013, but he finally performed somewhat well this past season, handling the run well. He was still a liability in coverage, however.

    3. Nat Berhe, S, Giants. Age: 27. — Signed with Steelers

    Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers. Age: 26.
      Franchised by Steelers

      Le’Veon Bell is one of the elite play-making weapons in the NFL. He’s a tremendous runner who has averaged at least 4.7 yards per carry in three of his past four seasons. He’s even better as a receiver; he caught 85 passes in 2017.

    2. Chris Boswell (RFA), K, Steelers. Age: 27.
      Tendered by Steelers (2nd round)

      Chris Boswell is one of the NFL’s top kickers. He’s hit his field goals at a 90 percent or better clip in two of his three seasons, and he’s 6-of-8 from 50-plus in his career.

    3. Roosevelt Nix (RFA), FB, Steelers. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Steelers

      Roosevelt Nix is coming off a down year, but he’s been an effective lead blocker for Le’Veon Bell.

    4. Chris Hubbard, OT, Steelers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Browns (5 years, $37.5 million)

      Chris Hubbard filled in well for an injured/suspended Marcus Gilbert this past season. He deserves a shot at earning a starting role on another team.

    5. Mike Mitchell, S, Steelers. Age: 31.
      Al Davis was laughed at for spending a second-round pick on Mike Mitchell in the 2009 NFL Draft, but Mitchell carved out a nice career for himself. Unfortunately for Mitchell, he’s now on the wrong side of 30, and his production has dropped recently.

    6. Arthur Moats, DE/OLB, Steelers. Age: 30.
    7. Jordan Berry (RFA), P, Steelers. Age: 27.
    8. Anthony Chickillo (RFA), DE/OLB, Steelers. Age: 25. — Tendered by Steelers (original round)
    9. Will Gay, S, Steelers. Age: 33. — Signed with Giants
    10. J.J. Wilcox, S, Steelers. Age: 27. — Signed with 49ers
    11. Robert Golden, S, Steelers. Age: 28. — Signed with Chiefs
    12. Justin Hunter, WR, Steelers. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Steelers
    13. Daniel McCullers, NT, Steelers. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Steelers

    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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