Now that we have completed our look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90-man roster heading into training camp a bit under a month from now, it’s time to take a look back at the team’s 53-man roster from last year’s regular season, for the purpose of revisiting the contributions of the players that are no longer with the team, and whether or not those contributions have been adequately replaced.
Roster turnover is just a natural fact of today’s NFL, which have only become more prominent since the advent of free agency more than two decades ago. It’s very rare for a team to return all 11 starters on one side of the ball from one year to the next, let alone to do so for both the offense and defense.
The Steelers are certainly no exception to that rule, and they figure to have a number of lineup changes from 2015 to 2016, which seems to be increasingly common for them in recent years.
He only came to the Steelers via a trade during training camp in August last year, in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick, but fifth-year cornerback Brandon Boykin certainly generated far more than was his fair share of conversation, certainly on our boards, and no doubt in many other places as well.
Bringing with him a reputation as a very good slot cornerback that was largely supported by a six-interception sophomore season in 2013, Boykin’s acquisition was cause for mild celebration among the Steelers faithful, many of whom penciled him into the starting lineup and insisted he was their best defensive back without taking a snap.
In spite of the fact that the team had a number of injuries, including to primary starter Antwon Blake, Boykin struggled to see the field when the regular season rolled around, however, and an injury of his own may have played a large role in that, as when there was an opening in Week Two, his practice time missed with a groin injury opened the door for Ross Cockrell.
The former Eagle spent most of the season on the sidelines, though he played his role on special teams on the kick coverage unit, and logged some time as a gunner, and I believe a jammer as well. It wasn’t until after the Steelers’ late bye week following the first 10 games that things began to change.
The team was humiliated by the Seahawks’ aerial game, giving up five receiving touchdowns, and Boykin was slowly rotated into the slot from there on out, ultimately becoming the slot cornerback for the rest of the season. He recorded an interception and a sack and certainly had his moments, though he had his failings as well.
The Steelers didn’t seem much interested in re-signing him after the season ended, however, and he signed a veteran-minimum deal with the Panthers after a couple weeks. After the draft, he was released, and two other teams brought him in for a visit without signing him. He remains available, and Carnell Lake put the word out that he may have a hip issue, though Boykin denies it.
In the meantime, the Steelers are looking to move on with Cockrell, Senquez Golson—whose injury prompted the trade for Boykin—and 2016 first-round draft pick Artie Burns, as well as fellow rookie Sean Davis, who could see time in the slot.