Back for the second installment of the “Ranking the Starters” series for the Pittsburgh Steelers, we’re going to take a look at No’s. 21-19 today.
Just a quick reminder: I put this list together using the Steelers’ base 3-4 defense and a 3-wide set on offense with no fullback, so you won’t be seeing Roosevelt Nix on this list.
List to date:
No. 24 – Jordan Berry
No. 23 – Ross Cockrell
No. 22 – Eli Rogers
No. 21 — Jesse James, TE
James has been a pleasant surprise over the last two years after being a mid-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft out of Penn State.
A big offensive weapon that Ben Roethlisberger tends to look for in the middle of the field, James has become a reliable possession tight end for the Steelers over the last two years.
No, he’ll be expected to take over the starting role full time in 2017 for Pittsburgh after the release of Ladarius Green this spring.
James isn’t going to be a top 10 tight end in the NFL any time soon, but he’s become a decent blocker and a reliable pass catcher in the middle of the field and in the end zone. I’d like to see him improve on third downs and as a run blocker, but the arrow is clearly point up for the Penn State product.
No. 20 — Artie Burns, CB
After a slow start to his rookie season last fall, Burns steadily improved over the second half of the season and became a bright spot for the Steelers in the secondary, finishing with three interceptions as a rookie while handling some No. 1 duties late in the season.
Not an overly physical corner, Burns still needs to improve his open-field tackling and run support on the boundary. Should he take the expected leap in coverage, Pittsburgh could have a clear No. 1 corner on its roster for the first time since Ike Taylor was in his prime.
The recent arrest for a suspended license doesn’t concern me much, but as a young kid he needs to get back into the good graces of his teammates and coaching staff after shedding negative light on the franchise.
I expect his play to do just that this fall.
No. 19 — Vince Williams, ILB
If you’ve read some of my work over the last 6 months or so, you’re quite aware that I felt the Steelers needed to address the ILB position in free agency and in the draft, considering their top backup in Williams has to slide into the starting role vacated by Lawrence Timmons’ signing with Miami in free agency.
However, taking a look at Williams’ limited film from his rookie season and last season on the inside has me feeling a little bit better about him as a starter for a Super Bowl contender.
He’s a menace against the run and is a consistent tackler, who the Steelers absolutely need next to Ryan Shazier, but the big knock is VW’s ability to drop into coverage.
If he’s even remotely competent in that role, he’ll be just fine as a starter. Should he stay healthy and play more than 80 percent of the snaps defensively, I could see Williams pushing 100 tackles on the year.
No. 21 – Alejandro Villanueva, OT
No. 20 – Daniel McCullers, NT
No. 19 – Jarvis Jones, OLB