We are now at a point during the offseason in which we find ourselves looking at training camp just around the corner for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the league, and a lot has changed for them over the course of the past several months. They have lost a number of players in free agency, through releases, and retirements. But they have also brought in a number of new faces to replace them.
We all know that roster turnover is an ever-present reality for today’s rosters, and it seems that over the course of the past half-decade or so even the Steelers have proven to be as susceptible to the annual shakeup as anybody. With that in mind, we should take the time to get to know some of the new faces with training camp soon to be here.
The Steelers didn’t make any splashy additions during free agency this year, so I thought it would be best to start our new faces series with their draft picks, since that tends to be the area in which they add the most significant new players on their roster, in contrast to some other teams.
But they did add a number of players to their roster in free agency, both during the main period of free agency and on the aftermarket, so to speak, after the penalty for signing free agents against the compensatory pick formula expired, so that is the group of players I’m going to talk about next.
We might as well start at the top, in terms of height, and that would be for wide receiver Justin Hunter, who at 6’4” actually kind of fits in with the Steelers’ suddenly tall receiving corps, which has certainly not always been the case. He is one of seven wide receivers on the 90-man roster who is at least 6’1”.
Originally a second-round draft pick by the Titans, he spent his first three seasons there while dealing with some injuries and, frankly, frequently poor quarterback play. He spend a lot of time catching passes from Zach Mettenberger, whom the Steelers released earlier this year.
After three years in Tennessee, he bounced from Miami to Buffalo midseason. While he never had a consistent role with the Bills, he did have an excellent reception-to-touchdown ratio. He is legitimately a red-zone target, and is somebody that Ben Roethlisberger has actively namedropped, so that is notable.
One of the interesting qualities about Hunter that a lot of people might not realize is that he is actually capable of lining up out of the slot, which is something that he did a decent amount even last year in Buffalo. The ability to line up in different areas of the field will help him land a roster spot, and possibly even get playing time.
Not that he doesn’t have things to work on. He can be slow off the line, slow out of his breaks, and slow selling his routes. That is a bad combination that he tries to make for with his natural athletic and physical qualities, but Richard Mann will hopefully demand more from him.
Because of his potential and the depth of the position, I think Hunter’s path toward the 53-man roster will be one of the more underrated storylines as we work our way through training camp. While this seems like an off year, one can’t deny the success rate of free agents making the roster under this regime.