With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and there soon being little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first eight games with a 6-2 record, tied for the best in the AFC along with the Patriots.
The offense has not lived up to its billing for the most part this year, though the running game has had its moments. Defensively, the sacks have come, and the secondary has improved, but there will always be things to work on.
Player: Vance McDonald, TE
It wasn’t exactly a logical conclusion to assume that the Steelers were likely to make a significant trade heading into the regular season. It’s something that they seldom do, yet they did several such trades in a short amount of time heading into the year.
The most notable was the acquisition of former 49ers tight end Vance McDonald, who earlier during that period was given a healthy new contract by a prior regime that obviously had higher ambitions for him.
While the Steelers had to take on his contract—one that is structured in ways that are unconventional to their practice, including a number of incentives—they felt it was necessary to acquire a significant talent at tight end based on what they had seen during the preseason.
It’s taken time, but we did begin to see McDonald making his contributions to the offense, and in fact, prior to a knee injury that caused him to leave their seventh game, he seemed to have moved into the primary tight end role, outsnapping Jesse James in the first half.
If that was the plan, it was sidelined with that knee injury, which caused him to miss the last game. But he is healthy now, and presumably looking to resume his ascent within the offense. While he only has three catches—in his last two games played—two of them went for big gains, and all of them went for first downs.
He was already a significantly positive contributor as a blocker, especially in the running game, and you will no doubt see his handiwork smattered all over Le’Veon Bell’s highlights, including a number of film study articles that I and others on this site have written.
He drops passes and he struggles to stay healthy. those are two pretty significant issues. But he offers the highest potential of producing an impact player from the tight end position on the Steelers’ roster. Will he be given every opportunity to assume that role in the second half of the season?