Wrapping up the highly controversial series, “Ranking the Starters” here at Steelers Depot, we close it out with the top 6 projected starters heading into the 2016 season.
Granted, these six guys are locks for starting jobs, but in today’s game you just never know with injuries and other sorts of ailments that could change things up.
Without further ado, here’s No. 6 to No. 1 of “Ranking the Starters.”
No. 6 — Ryan Shazier, ILB
I’ve been on the record multiple times on this site saying that Shazier could be an All-Pro this season just based off of the way he closed out the regular season in 2015 and played with his hair on fire (I know, he doesn’t have hair) in the playoffs, turning in great performances against the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos.
Due to that, I certainly feel there was a changing of the guard at linebacker from Shazier to Lawrence Timmons down the stretch. I understand that the biggest concern with Shazier is his durability and his football IQ at times, but there’s no denying this guy’s incredibly high ceiling and talent.
With a healthy Shazier flying sideline-to-sideline next season, the defensive front should once again be a dominant factor for the Steelers.
No. 5 — David DeCastro, OG
There’s no question in my mind that DeCastro is one of the top 3 guards in all of football and easily the best offensive lineman on the Steelers.
A mauler in the running game and an athletic freak in space for his size, DeCastro does so much for the Steelers on the right side of the offensive line, which — I would guess — is where most of the yards on the ground is gained.
Although he does struggle at times in pass protection, I’m willing to give that a pass for now because he’s greatly improved in that area of his game year after year. Another big leap is expected this season, and along with that should come a hefty raise via extension.
No. 4 — Le’Veon Bell, RB
What more can you say about this guy? When healthy — and that’s a key word “when” — there is no better player at his position that is more complete than Bell is.
As a runner he has incredible patience to wait for holes to open up, great burst to get through said holes and is very shifty in the open field.
As a receiver, Bell often looks the part. If not for running back, I have no doubt Bell could make it in this league as a receiver due to his soft hands and route running ability all over the field.
He’s a dynamic weapon in this offense, but the only reason I don’t have him in the top 3 is the fact that he finally has a legit backup behind him in DeAngelo Williams, who proved quite capable of carrying a heavy load last season in relief.
Bell’s touches might go down this season to make sure he’s healthy for a deep playoff run, and everyone should be okay with that.
No. 3 — Cam Heyward, DE
There’s a legit argument in my book to have Heyward top two; that’s how important he is to this team, especially an improving defense that is quite young.
On this current roster I don’t think you can find a better player that exemplifies what it means to be a Steeler. Heyward simply nails it and blows any other possible competitor away.
Although he doesn’t put up the huge sack numbers like other defensive ends across the league or even catching touchdown passes like JJ Watt, Heyward is just as dominant as the top defensive ends and tackles across the league.
It’s time for people — namely the national media — to recognize that and start showing Heyward some love. He’s as consistent as they come defensively. Steeler Nation can attest to that.
No. 2 — Antonio Brown, WR
The best receiver in the league isn’t even the best starter or most valuable starter on his own team due to a Quarterback-driven league.
Make no mistake, Brown makes this offense go with the amount of attention he draws, along with the absolutely ridiculous things he does on the field with the ball in his hands.
Without Ben Roethlisberger throwing him passes, we see how much his value to the team decreases, considering he can’t do much with garbage QB play and the inability to get him the football.
That’s not on Brown, but you can’t dominate without the ball. That’s just how it goes.
While he did catch at least six balls in every game without Roethlisberger calling the shots, the yardage and touchdowns were way below average. I just want to see how much damage that combination could do in a full season in which both are healthy.
No. 1 — Ben Roethlisberger, QB
Is this really any surprise? Honestly, it shouldn’t be.
I can go without seeing Landry Jones ever taking another snap for the Steelers again, and the same goes for Bruce Gradkowski.
In today’s NFL it’s all about the QB’s, and the Steelers are fortunate to have a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Roethlisberger.
While he is coming down the stretch on his career with the end much closer than anyone wants to be comfortable talking about, he’s still playing at an exceptionally high level and seems to have found another notch in how high he can take his game throwing the football.
Never in a million years did I think the Steelers would be a high-octane offense, but here we are, and that’s largely a testament to No. 7.
He’s a Godsend, that’s for sure.