Player: Roosevelt Nix
Experience: 1 Year
Free Agent Status: Exclusive Rights (Signed)
2015 Salary Cap Hit: $435,000
2015 Season Breakdown: Fullback Roosevelt Nix came to us as a bit of a surprise. In fact, he came to us not even as a fullback, but as an inside linebacker, making the transition only during the offseason in order to give him a better opportunity to make the roster.
It was a transition that he had undergone the year before with Atlanta before failing to make the roster, but the Steelers initially signed him to a Reserve/Future contract before moving him to the other side of the ball. They took to his aggressiveness on special teams, and that proved to be the key to him earning a spot on the 53-man roster.
It seemed that the Steelers had an entrenched ‘starter’ at the fullback position in Will Johnson even though they had essentially stopped lining him up in the backfield, but as the season progressed, Nix found himself logging plenty more time on offense than Johnson.
Pittsburgh enjoyed running behind the 250-pound Nix as a lead blocker, doing so on about 150 or so snaps until he suffered a season-ending foot injury. They struggled to find a substitute in that role and for the most part abandoned the two-back backfield after his injury.
But his bread and butter was earned on special teams, with a blocked punt during the preseason helping him to cement his spot on the 53-man roster. He forced a fumble on a kickoff against Oakland that led to a touchdown in what proved to be a three-point victory.
In all, he recorded nine tackles on special teams while becoming a key component of many of their units, with special teams coach Danny Smith growing quite fond of him and expressing the extent of his loss to his units when he was injured.
Nix gave the Steelers a more physical component to their run game that they had largely been without for the majority of the past decade, after the offense had undergone a transition away from using a true fullback, which even Johnson never quite was.
They certainly seemed to like that, and for a team that primarily uses three wide receivers as their base offense, the extent of his playing time was certainly not insignificant. But even were that not the case, his work in special teams would have kept him relevant.
Free Agency Outlook: As noted at the top of the article, the Steelers have already signed Nix to a contract for the 2016 season as an exclusive rights free agent with one year of accrued NFL experience. The fact that they did so in spite of his injury should be of mild note.
The Steelers may never be a team that uses a fullback on hundreds of snaps over the course of a season again, but Nix has clearly found himself a place in this offense that still prides itself in being able to run the ball when it wants to, and especially when it has to. And special teams will always need players who love to run and hit, something he does rather well.