We’re back again for installment No. 3 of “Ranking the Starters” here at Steelers Depot.
It’s been quite a whirlwind the last two weeks with the reaction this series has gotten, both good and bad. So for that, I thank you.
No. 11 — Mike Mitchell, S
I was exceptionally hard on Mitchell during his first year in Pittsburgh and thought that the Steelers completely wasted their time on the journeyman safety, but year two was fantastic for the veteran.
Mitchell provided the Steelers with a legitimate physical threat in the secondary and really stepped up as the leader of the defense on a young, growing unit down the stretch. Now that he appears healthy, Mitchell looks like a cornerstone for the defense moving forward.
Year Three should be a big step forward for Mitchell as the defense continues to get faster and improve year to year.
No. 10 — Markus Wheaton, WR
More targets should mean more production for Markus Wheaton as the No. 2 receiver in the Steelers’ offense. In the Pittsburgh high-flying offense, Wheaton is going to be very important across from Antonio Brown this season, especially considering the fact that Martavis Bryant is out for the season due to suspension, Sammie Coates is still learning how to play in the NFL, Darrius Heyward-Bey isn’t anything more than a homerun threat (that’s not a knock) and Ladarius Green is still learning the offense.
I expect Ben Roethlisberger to look Wheaton’s way quite often this season, which should result in his best season ever, especially in a contract year.
No. 9 — William Gay, CB
The best defensive back on this roster by far, Gay is such a valuable piece for this franchise despite being on the wrong side of 30 years old and looking more like a slot corner than a boundary corner.
That being said, Gay was great last year for the Steelers, often coming up with the biggest plays in the secondary while moving all over the field to shut down the opposing team’s No. 1 weapons.
Despite being 31 years old when the season starts, Gay is going to be a big part of the success the defense should have this season in year two under Keith Butler.
No. 8 — Marcus Gilbert, OT
Gilbert has really developed into one of the top five right tackles in all of football under current offensive line coach, Mike Munchak.
Prior to Munchak coming to Pittsburgh, Gilbert really struggled with consistency and didn’t really have a set position, but since Munchak has come aboard, Gilbert has really lived up to his draft status and contract extension to become a major piece to the rebuilt offensive line, protecting Roethlisberger quite well over the last few years while also serving as a road grater in the running game.
Although a right tackle by trade, that doesn’t diminish the important of value of Gilbert to the current roster. For the Steelers to be as well-balanced of an offense as they want to be, Gilbert is going to have to take another step forward this season while continuing to dominate in the running game.
Keep in mind: Gilbert was rated as the No 4 tackle last season by PFF.
No. 7 — Stephon Tuitt, DE
As a bookend pair with Cameron Heyward, Tuitt has become a physical force along the defensive line under John Mitchell and Keith Butler.
Year Three should be yet another big leap forward in the development of Tuitt where he should be able to up his sack numbers while looking to stay on the field consistently this season.
He has the total package of speed and power along the defensive line and is still developing into a force for the Steelers. With limited depth along the defense line — especially at defensive end — if Tuitt were to go down with injury again the Steelers could be in some trouble.