We’re in the dog days of summer here at Steelers Depot with training camp just weeks away.
With that said, it’s time for me to pick up on a series on the site I started last summer: Ranking the Starters.
Last summer, it was quite controversial and very confusing for most readers to understand how I built the list, so I figured I’d tweak a few things and lay it out clearly here.
First off, this list is my personal rankings of the 24 starters (including two specialists) based on my evaluation of their talents and what they bring to the team. Last summer, I tried to rank them based on perceived value to the team, and that seemed to throw everything off, so I’m not doing that again.
Second, I’ll rank the starters based on Pittsburgh’s standard 3-4 defense (three linemen, four linebackers, four defensive backs), but I’ll change things up offensively and go with the a three-receiver set and one tight end, eliminating the fullback position (no hard feelings, Rosie Nix).
Now that that’s all cleared up, let’s jump right into the list, starting with No. 24-22.
No. 24 — Jordan Berry, P
This is no knock on Berry. It’s just that a punter is difficult to put ahead of guys who play 70+ percent of the snaps week to week when all you’re asked to do is punt the ball away 4-5 times a game.
Last season, I rained praise on Berry week after week for how much he improved and really seemed to flip field position for a young, growing defense. Often times it helped out immensely as Berry was able to find his groove as a punter and really show off that strong Australian leg.
However, Berry ranked just 16th in the NFL in net average per punt (40.2 yards), so he has to improve his hang time and directional kicking. Overall though, Berry was very solid last season, solidifying the punting position for the Steelers.
More of the same will be expected this season.
No. 23 — Ross Cockrell, CB
Last summer, Cockrell ranked 24th on this list and caused a lot of outrage, considering his success at cornerback was closely tied to the success of the Steelers’ defense against the pass.
I labeled Cockrell as a JAG (just a guy) and felt that if the Steelers could find an upgrade in training camp, he’d be out of a starting job.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen and he had a decent year opposite rookie Artie Burns, handling a majority of the No. 1 duties early in the year until Burns was ready for a heavier workload.
He’s not a flashy corner and doesn’t rack up interceptions and pass breakups like you want your cornerback to in today’s NFL, but he’s a smart player that rarely gambles on plays and makes solid tackles on the boundary.
I’d like to see him get his hands on the football more (just two career interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries), but I’d be asking Cockrell to be something he’s not.
With all that said, if things play out like the Steelers expect this season, Cockrell will likely be passed on the depth chart at some point in the season by one of rookie Cameron Sutton or veteran free agent signing Coty Sensabaugh.
No. 22 — Eli Rogers, WR
For now, I have Rogers pegged in as the starting slot receiver in Pittsburgh’s three-wide sets.
Make no mistake: Rogers is a great team guy who busted his butt to get into the position he is. But sometimes there’s a better player (JuJu Smith-Schuster) added into the mix who is likely to take your spot at some point.
Last season, Rogers started the year on fire, hauling in nine passes and one touchdown in the first three weeks of the season against Washington, Cincinnati and Philadelphia before then missing Weeks 4 and 5 with injury.
From there, things sort of slowed down for Rogers, who returned for the game at Miami before then missing the New England game.
Upon his return, Rogers went on to catch 35 passes and three touchdowns in the final nine weeks of the regular season before then hauling in 13 passes in three playoff games.
He’s a dynamic player in the slot who runs great routes and seems to have some tremendous rapport with Ben Roethlisberger, but his time could be dwindling in the slot with the addition of Smith-Schuster through the draft.
Last Year’s Rankings:
No. 24 — Ross Cockrell
No. 23 — Jordan Berry
No. 22 — Robert Golden