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 pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will anybody among the first-year and undrafted free agent classes make the 53-man roster?
The Steelers tend to be ahead of the curve with regard to undrafted free agent players ultimately making a name for themselves in the league, and this year alone, Pittsburgh is anticipated to enter the 2016 season with a handful of such players in their starting lineup, or as notable contributors.
That said, this year’s crop of free agent additions following the draft, at least on the surface, seem to be less inspiring than usual. At the very least, they have not garnered as much attention as have many players in the past. No signing was given a maximum signing bonus of $10,000, as a quick barometer of comparison.
The fringe undrafted rookie or first-year player that would seem to have the easiest path toward making the 53-man roster this year might be punter Will Monday, whose competition will be second-year punter Jordan Berry, coming off a rather up-and-down season, ending on a decided down note. But I sense they feel it’s time to lock on to one punter and let him develop.
There is a roster spot open for a fifth wide receiver with Martavis Bryant suspended. But the player most likely to win that spot is the one most likely to be a strong special teams contributor, and that player figures to be seventh-rounder Demarcus Ayers, though Eli Rogers, who does have Steelers shorts, as one particular coach put it, also has a return background.
In order for the Steelers to carry an extra body at tight end or fullback, that body would have to have the potential to be a fixture on special teams. That is how Roosevelt Nix earned his roster spot last year. And he can be used on the line if they needed to. I don’t know that I see any of these young tight ends making themselves indispensable on special teams; it’s not typically the tight ends’ place.
Finally, with regard to Tyriq McCord, it’s true that the Steelers lost a couple of special teams linebackers. But they also carried over a couple of special teams linebackers that they didn’t get to fully utilize. And they also just drafted a couple of special teams linebackers. So you have to think he is low on the totem pole, but might perhaps have a run as a practice squad spot.
In all, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the only players with no prior NFL regular season experience who make the roster are the rookie draft picks this year. It just doesn’t seem to be the right year to find one of those sort of breakthrough players.