The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: Will this year’s draft class yield at least one full-time starter by the end of the season? More than one?
The Pittsburgh Steelers may have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL—even those who constantly criticize their performance acknowledge this when they claim that the team underachieves—but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement.
Now more than ever, in recent years, there have been starting opportunities not just for young players, but for rookies. In 2017, two rookie started, including T.J. Watt, who became the first rookie on the defensive side of the ball to go wall-to-wall from the start of the season to the final game as a starter. JuJu Smith-Schuster also started.
Artie Burns and Sean Davis in 2016 were rookie starters, and you can throw in Javon Hargrave as well, insofar as the nose tackle position can be regarded as a starting role at this point. Bud Dupree was a rookie starter by the end of 2015, and Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt both spent time starting in 2014. Le’Veon Bell was a rookie starter the year before, while Jarvis Jones was a bit in and out of the lineup.
This season, there is an obvious opening at inside linebacker for a starter to emerge, and there is likely to be a spot at safety as well, depending upon which sources you rely upon. Depending upon how the offseason unfolds, it’s readily conceivable that either position could yield a starter.
There are other potential areas in which a starter can emerge as well. Tight end is an option, albeit not a likely one, and the same can be said for the outside linebacker position. Cornerback would be an even more unlikely possibility. If the team doesn’t re-sign Bell, suddenly a vast hole opens up at running back.
Over the course of just the past handful of seasons, we have seen upwards of 10 players enter the starting lineup in a meaningful way at some point during their rookie season in Pittsburgh. There are opportunities for rookies in 2018. Will we see one emerge, or even more than one?