The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: What position group on the Steelers’ roster has improved the most from around this time last year?
It’s more or less inevitable that there will be some give and take between the relative qualities of different position groups on a 53-man roster depending on how a team chooses to handle its business in terms of investing resources of money and draft picks. The inevitable improvement or decline of current talent obviously plays a major factor as well.
From this time last season—that is, prior to the 2016 NFL Draft—the roster has undergone a lot of changes, and certain players have improved, while others have begun to decline. New players have been brought in, while others found new homes elsewhere.
This leads to the question of which group has benefitted the most from the course of the past year heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, and my initial impression is that, despite its critics, the cornerback group may be as worthy a candidate as any.
In 2015, the Steelers were still relying on Antwon Blake to play a major role in the secondary, and yet was still losing out on time from Ross Cockrell, who was only signed with the final roster cuts and was playing within a couple of weeks of joining the team.
A year later, Cockrell has developed into a legitimate and ascending starting cornerback, and meanwhile the team drafted another legitimate and ascending starting cornerback in Artie Burns. While their continued improvement is essential, they are in a better position than they were a year ago.
Another group that deserves consideration is the defensive line, even with the loss of Steve McLendon from a year ago. Javon Hargrave’s impressive rookie season bodes well for more, while Stephon Tuitt will continue to improve. The addition of Tyson Alualu gives them the most legitimate rotational option they’ve had in years.