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.
Arguably the biggest missing piece heading into this season in terms of what he meant to the team in the past couple years, and taking into consideration where the team is without him, is left tackle Kelvin Beachum, who signed a tiered contract with the Jaguars this offseason that could turn into a massive multi-year deal with a club option after this year.
Beachum, initially a 2012 seventh-round compensatory draft pick, and nearly Mr. Irrelevant, took over the starting left tackle position in the fifth game of his second season and never looked back. He also had to take over at right tackle at the end of his rookie season due to injury, but his home is clearly on the blind side.
He no doubt had a learning curve over his first year and a half or so in the starting lineup, but by midseason of the 2014 season, Beachum had become arguably one of the better pass protectors on the edge in the league, which is why the Steelers tried to get him locked up long-term that offseason, but a deal could not be reached.
He instead went into the year on the final year of his meager rookie deal, and ended up suffering a torn ACL six games into the season, a season in which he got off to a slow start, but he came along and rounded into his usual self, if not even a bit better in the running game, by the time he was injured.
The Steelers had to rely on first-year Alejandro Villanueva from that point on, who filled in admirably, and is anticipated to remain in the starting lineup this season, though the team did bring in tackle Ryan Harris in free agency to compete for the job. They also drafted Jerald Hawkins in the fourth round, but he is a prospect in need of development.
Neither Villanueva nor Harris have Beachum’s skill set, but Villanueva is still learning the game, and has the potential to be a really solid starter. Harris, for his part, seems to be merely an average starter. But one thing that can be said for Villanueva is that he certainly comes cheaper, and the fact of the matter is that, for the most part, other than his first start, the offense ran pretty well with him in there, and he should only be getting better.