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.
The brief tenure of once-Steelers bane Jacoby Jones with Pittsburgh was by all reasonable accounts a failure, that much can be said, and the fact that he did not even manage to make it to the end of the season before he was released by his second team that season likely says all that need be said of what the 2016 season might hold for him.
Once a highly productive returner for the Texans and then the Ravens, Jones continued to be effective even through the 2014 season, but the Ravens were wary of continuing that relationship in spite of good to excellent statistics—he averaged over 30 yards per kick return in 2014—due largely to the fact that he fumbled four times. He also, of course, wanted more money than they wanted to pay.
The Chargers instead signed him to a two-year deal where he worked as their starting returner on both kicks and punts, but he spent much of that time injured, and his results were decidedly poor. He averaged just 21.4 yards on nine kick returns, and his punt return average was amazingly in the red.
After he was released, the Steelers claimed him and displaced not only Dri Archer from kick returns, but former Pro Bowl returner Antonio Brown from punt returns. This proved not to be a good idea, as not only were his averages below average, he fumbled three times on 15 returns, and mishandled others.
He was benched after four games, but he was only released late in the year when they found it necessary to open a roster spot for special teams purposes due to injury. That wiped his 2016 contract off the books, mercifully.
This year, the Steelers are looking at a new draft pick, wide receiver Demarcus Ayers, as a player to potentially fulfill the returner role that is especially a need for kickoffs. Second-year former undrafted free agent Eli Rogers is also an option after he spent his rookie season on injured reserve.