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: Does Justin Hunter hold his own fate in his hands toward a spot on the 53-man roster?
While we have in the past extensively documented the history of the Steelers and their propensity to roster the players that they have brought in during free agency, that hasn’t ever stopped fueling the furnaces that drive the offseason chatter about whether or not they will make the team. Many thought Steven Johnson wouldn’t make it—and he kind of didn’t initially—but he ultimately did make the team and remains with the team, likely looking at another year in Pittsburgh.
The free agent discussion this year centers around former second-round draft pick Justin Hunter, the tall, fast wide receiver who most recently was catching touchdowns in Buffalo. And, to be fair, he might have the least-compelling case for a spot on the 53-man roster that a free agent has had in recent years.
A lot of that has nothing to do with him. The Steelers signed him before they knew what would happen with Martavis Bryant, who has recently been reinstated conditionally. Then they used a second-round draft pick on JuJu Smith-Schuster. Outside of them and Antonio Brown, not much is locked up, but is Hunter in a position in which he can just make the roster by doing well, or does he need help?
Part of the discussion centers around the fact that he is a fairly one-dimensional player who doesn’t offer anything on special teams. Others, such as Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, and especially Darrius Heyward-Bey, could all serve a role in the third phase of the game.
I can’t help but wonder, however, if Hunter’s roster spot will have to be contingent upon the failure of others. If Coates proves to be an unreliable receiver, for example, and a no-better-than-average gunner. Will another player have to demonstrate a shortcoming in order to open the door for Hunter, or can he open it himself simply by playing well? While technically the obvious answer is yes, I would like to focus on the most realistic scenarios, and not all possible outcomes, since there can technically be a scenario in which no receivers currently on the roster make the team.