The 2016 season is turning out to be a good one for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After claiming the AFC North title, the Steelers route to the Super Bowl features a back-up quarterback, a team that they dismantled in convincing fashion already this season, and a superpower without their Jenga piece.
Of course, the reality is that the Miami Dolphins, and perhaps the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots will represent a much harder challenge than those throwaway statements, but 2016 looks like a great opportunity for the Steelers.
Still, it’s very easy to get excited about what the 2017 season could bring to Pittsburgh. With the exception of Le’Veon Bell, all of the key players are under contract at least until the end of next season.
Next season will also bring some relief with cap space, allowing the likes of Bell and Antonio Brown to receive new contracts, and other players like Ross Cockrell, Alejandro Villaneuva, and James Harrison can be resigned.
But the biggest reason to get excited is the number of young players who are making their marks on the team. Arguably only the Oakland Raiders have more improving young impact players amongst the AFC contenders.
On offense, the gaggle of young receivers like Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, Demarcus Ayers, and Cobi Hamilton essentially all only tasted their first full seasons in the NFL this year. Ladarius Green will benefit from a full off-season and increased chemistry with the offense in the spring and summer.
Who knows, even Martavis Bryant could be back?
Then there’s the young core on defense. Bud Dupree made strides in between his rookie year and his second year. Provided he stays injury free, a full offseason will help him improve going into his third year.
All three rookies will benefit from more experience. Most players raise their game in the second or third years, and the Steelers will look to give Artie Burns and Sean Davis more responsibilities as their familiarities with the NFL and the Steelers’ system grows.
Hopefully when the team comes back into training camp they will be joined by another impressive draft class. The 2017 class looks to be another deep one on defense, with quality edge rushers, cornerbacks, and safeties available throughout the draft. There might even be running backs, wide receivers, or tight-ends available later on should the front office decide that they are needed.