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: Does second-year Reserve/Future quarterback Dustin Vaughan stand a legitimate chance of competing for a roster spot?
Can you name the last quarterback who has made the Steelers’ 53-man roster as a former undrafted free agent? I can’t, and I don’t think I’m going to try, because I don’t believe there has been one on the roster outside of extreme injury need since before Ben Roethlisberger was drafted.
Tyler Murphy, who spent a couple of weeks on the roster because of a suspension as a wide receiver, was later called up to the 53-man roster to serve as an emergency backup quarterback, the position he played in college, last year. Brian Hoyer also spent a cup of coffee on the 53-man roster a few years back in the middle of an injury-riddled season.
Dustin Vaughan has quite an uphill battle ahead of him, even if the quarterback depth chart behind him is about as unimpressive as it has been in the past decade. Vaughan was an undrafted free agent in 2014 and managed to make the Cowboys’ roster as a third quarterback, but Dallas only kept two quarterbacks last year.
Vaughan spent a bit of time on the Bills’ practice squad after that, but since then had been without a football team until the Steelers signed him to a Reserve/Future contract at the end of the season. While he has intriguing size for the position and a decent arm, he still has some room to grow into the NFL game and in a professional system.
In two preseasons, Vaughan has only completed a touch over half of his passes, has one touchdowns versus two interceptions, and has taken sacks that he hasn’t needed to take. He will have to show significant progress if he hopes to unseat either Landry Jones, who has finally shown signs of growth last year, or the veteran Bruce Gradkowski.
I believe his best hope is for Jones to impress and secure the backup position behind Roethlisberger, leaving the third quarterback spot open for somebody to develop. My feeling is, however, that the coaching staff will still want Gradkowski’s presence behind Jones just in case even if he does win the backup job.