Just as all the signs pointed to in the team’s preseason finale, Javon Hargrave has officially jumped Daniel McCullers on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ depth chart.
Hargrave started against the Carolina Panthers and saw roughly a half of action. It was McCullers who handled mop up duty, playing as late as the tail end of the fourth quarter.
It’s well-earned by the rookie. Hargrave dominated training camp and flashed in the preseason, looking identical to the player drafted out of South Carolina State, the one who terrorized at the FCS level.
In the summer, it was clear the Steelers were expecting McCullers to take over as the starter. Steve McLendon was gone and the chance for Shade Tree to finally breakout was here.
“He’s gotta put it together,” Cam Heyward told reporters in late May. “He’s gotta have technique. In this league, there are bigger guys, not as big as him, but if he adds technique to that, he’ll be that much better of a player.”
McCullers failed to show significant progression and his size and run defense wasn’t enough to hold off the much quicker and free-flowing Hargrave,
The Steelers were in their base 3-4 about 27% of the time last year, an average of 19 plays over a 70 snap game. There is likely to still be some rotation, giving McCullers a role, but as Hargrave progresses, McCullers could be entirely phased out. Hargrave will also be a key rotational piece in sub-package for Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, an area McCullers is unlikely to see any playing time.
This announcement likely closes the book on McCullers’ long-term future and value with the team. Hargrave is bound to only get better, to ascend to new heights. McCullers figures to always stay the same. An imposing figure, the occasional force, but a lack of physicality, edge, and athleticism to function in today’s hyper-speed league.