Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but somebody is predicting a breakout season for third-year Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt. The former second-round draft pick entered the starting lineup on a full-time basis in 2015 and posted 6.5 sacks in 14 games played, sidelined for two games with an ankle injury.
The reporter doing the predicting this time around is ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler as part of a site-wide prediction series, looking to sort out who from each team is going to step up this season in a big way. Given Tuitt’s success last year, he might not seem the likeliest candidate, however.
“Tuitt is poised for a major jump in his third season”, Fowler writes. “He recorded 6.5 sacks in 14 games last season, and he pairs with veteran Cam Heyward to form one of the league’s most formidable bookend duos in a 3-4 defense. Tuitt has speed and agility at 300 pounds, which allows him to rush the passer and stop the run with equal effectiveness”.
Somewhat curiously, he writes that “linebacker Ryan Shazier already has found stardom, and Tuitt plans to join him”. If anything, perhaps, I might think that Tuitt has been further ahead in ‘breaking out’, though due largely to health.
Hedging his bets, Fowler went on to name another potential ‘breakout’ players for the Steelers. “Wide receiver Sammie Coates is another candidate”, he wrote. “He has the highest ceiling among Pittsburgh receivers not named Antonio Brown”.
Had it been my list to make, I might not have chosen any of the players named, though that is because I believe, at least in part, that Tuitt has already ‘arrived’, so to speak. He already played as a pretty high level a year ago. I might have named a wide receiver, but not the one that he chose.
If there is to be a breakout player at the wide receiver position this season, I might be inclined to favor Eli Rogers, who may actually play more this season than Sammie Coates if things continue to develop as they have. Both are entering their second seasons. One has the prototypical physical traits you want in the position, and was a high draft pick. The other is undersized and undrafted.
But Rogers has a great deal in terms of polish and precision that Coates lacks, and which will hinder him as he seeks playing time behind the starting wide receivers. Rogers is the player most ideally suited to lining up in the slot outside of the starting lineup.
Coates could, of course come on as well, particularly if he is used in a sort of ‘big play’ role that allows him to take advantage of his speed and physicality. Another recent Steelers wide receiver took that path in carving out a role for himself on a breakout list not long ago…I wonder whatever happened to that guy…