Devil’s Advocate: Special-Teams Roster Spots In 2017

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Is this season any different when it comes to considering the special-teams contributions of otherwise roster cut candidates?

It is an annual discussion that we have around these parts that, depending on the year, can expend all the way from January to the early days of September—or, really, even into the season, if something relevant happens—specifically, the discussion of how to weigh the contributions of players on special teams as it pertains to their standing on the 53-man roster.

The Steelers have quite frankly not had consistently deep rosters for the majority of the past decade, but that has begun to change over the course of the past couple of seasons, and we are reaching a period in which it seems as though it will be exceedingly difficult for players who seemingly can only contribute on special teams to make the 53-man roster.

Of course, the reality is that special teams is always important, regardless of who realizes it. Some seem only to realize the value of rostering players who are skilled in the area of special teams when the team starts giving up return touchdowns.

So from that point of view, there will always be, and has to be, room for at least a couple of players on the 53-man roster whose primary or virtually exclusive contribution is their special-teams performance. And the reality is that it will always be based on positional depth, as well.

But the Steelers have already chosen to move on from somebody like Shamarko Thomas, who was a favorite of Danny Smith. If they can part with him—even if they brought in another special-teamer at his position—you certainly have to be concerned about somebody like Darrius Heyward-Bey, whose position group has gotten much deeper since last year.

Others like Robert Golden and Anthony Chickillo are players who based on recent developments could find themselves relegated exclusively to special-teams duty. Steven Johnson at the inside linebacker position is another. Some also have potential special-teams replacements at their position who offer more potential upside at their natural position

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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