The Optimist’s Take: Diamonds In The First-Year Rough

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Will anybody among the first-year and undrafted free agent classes make the 53-man roster?

When it comes underdogs and being given the opportunities to succeed, it is at least my impression that the Steelers tend to be at least on the cusp of the upturn of the bell curve on that front. Many high-profile players from their recent teams have come from the undrafted ranks, and it seems that at least one or two a year manage to make the 53-man roster, or at least come close to it.

As currently projected—by me—Pittsburgh figures to field an opening-day starting lineup, in a 12 personnel on offense and 3-4 on defense, that consists of potentially five players who originally came into the league as undrafted free agents.

The Steelers ended up fielding a pretty interesting group of undrafted players last season, and one of them that they originally signed—Tyler Murphy—ended up making at least the initial 53-man roster, and had two stints there while spending most of his time on the practice squad.

Other notable udrafted free agents (who are actually still with the team) include offensive lineman B.J. Finney, safety Jordan Dangerfield, tight end Xavier Grimble, and wide receivers Eli Rogers and Shakim Phillips. One can’t forget Jordan Berry, who was a first-year player but not a rookie, who made the 53-man roster as a punter. Chris Boswell was signed during the season, also a first-year former undrafted player.

This year’s group seems to be a bit less inspiring, but a couple of names do spark the imagination. I am thinking of wide receiver Canaan Severin, tight end Jay Rome, linebacker Tyriq McCord, and punter Will Monday.

Finney, I think, stands a fair chance of being competitive for the second reserve interior offensive lineman position. With Martavis Bryant suspended, any of the three receiver listed above are all in the competition to win the fifth wide receiver position.

If the Steelers are interested in keeping a fourth tight end as they did last year, Grimble and Rome can compete for an opportunity there. Monday can challenge Berry for the punting job. Dangerfield has been around for years now—pardon the obvious reference, but perhaps he finally gets a little respect.

The Steelers lost a number of special teams contributors this offseason. While they also drafted a number of potential contributors subsequently, McCord can be added to that mix. With experience both standing and in a three-point stance, the former Hurricane also brings with him a much-appreciated special teams background that will be an advantage to his long-odds ambitions of making the team.

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