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: The Steelers had some strong candidates for most improved player last season. Who is your early favorite for that title in 2017?
When it comes to roster-building there is no one clear path toward success. We have seen over the years teams take a variety of different routes toward building a quality NFL roster that can compete for a championship.
The Steelers have for a long time perhaps more than anybody relied greatly upon using the NFL Draft as their primary resource for roster-building, and they also don’t like fiddling with their draft picks too much, so they don’t do a lot of wheeling and dealing.
With that said, teams such as the Steelers who do not heavily engage in free agency generally rely upon their own players to make significant improvement while giving them time to develop, since they don’t take the route of signing developed players to big-money contracts.
The team had some significant names on their roster make leaps forward in their play from one year to the next, with the three that stand out most to my mind being left tackle Alejandro Villanueva—playing the most critical role—cornerback Ross Cockrell, and rotational defensive lineman L.T. Walton.
In each case, the 2016 season was the second in these players’ careers’ spent on the Steelers’ 53-man roster, though they all took different paths in getting there, and that would seem to fit the theme of the second-year jump.
The Steelers have some significant players from their previous draft class then who would be opportune candidates in this discussion, namely cornerback Artie Burns, safety Sean Davis, and nose tackle Javon Hargrave, all of whom were in the starting lineup by the end of the year.
While these might be the obvious names, there are others that can be brought into the equation. One interesting candidate is a real wildcard in Ladarius Green, because we don’t even know if he will play. But he made some big plays in 2016 when he did get on the field. Jesse James is another name here.
Vince Williams? Yeah, that’s a pretty major name as a player who can transition from backup to starter this season. How about Bud Dupree. If he is going to become the player the team needs him to be, then he needs to make a significant jump still. Senquez Golson playing a preseason snap would qualify him here at this point.