I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: Jordan Berry will be a long-term solution at the punter position.
By recent standards, he already is. from 2007 to 2014, the Steelers had six different punters, with Daniel Sepulveda the only one to spend more than one full season with the team. A 2007 fourth-round draft pick, his career was derailed by injuries and gave way to a carousel of punters that included Mitch Berger, Jeremy Kapinos, Drew Butler, Zoltan Mesko, Mat McBriar, and finally Brad Wing. Throw in Adam Podlesh and Brian Moorman while we’re at it.
Berry edged out Wing in a training camp battle in 2015, the latter dealt to the New York Giants for a seventh-round pick, and he has been in Pittsburgh now for three years. They are paying him nearly $2 million this season (the equivalent of the original-round restricted free agent tender), and it’s highly unlikely he doesn’t make the team this year, at least from where we currently stand. The fact of the matter is that the team hasn’t really ever given him much competition.
But he has had some success and has improved. He is good at avoiding touchbacks, has improved his directional punting, and allows relatively few punts to be returned. While his averages and net averages are low to average by league standards, they are actually among the best in team history.
The last point, however, is the key. The specialist positions more than any other area in the game have seen a rapid and steep growth over the course of the past couple of decades. It’s now expected for kickers to routinely make 50-yarders and punt for net averages above 40.
Berry might be good relatively to team history, but his numbers are pedestrian in comparison to his contemporaries. If he doesn’t continue to improve (and it is very possible that he will), then he may eventually find himself looking for a new team, provided that Pittsburgh finds a replacement.