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: T.J. Watt is (or will be) the Steelers’ next great pass-rusher.
There are few questions as important to the Steelers’ immediate future than this one. It’s been the better part of a decade since the team has had an elite pass-rusher, and he literally just retired. In the meantime, we’ve had the wounded LaMarr Woodley, the almost-but-not-quite Jason Worilds, the are-you-kidding-me Jarvis Jones, the should-be-better-than-this Bud Dupree, and finally the farewell tour of James Harrison.
There is a lot riding on T.J. Watt being the next in line. It’s very hard for a defense to function at a top level without high-quality edge rusher, even if the Steelers do have the great Cameron Heyward along the interior, putting up 12 sacks last year.
And fortunately there is reason for optimism surrounding the youngest Watt brother. For one thing, his seven sacks as a rookie are the second-most anybody’s ever had in a Steelers uniform. What’s more, he has all the tools to be successful: athleticism, drive, intelligence, and aggressiveness. He is working on his strength this offseason.
His hand usage as a relative novice at the position last season was the most impressive thing to me. While he didn’t display elite traits every game, he spent a lot of time learning and will only be better for it.
But better doesn’t equal great, let alone elite, and he was neither last year. He was sufficient, most of the time. it’s too early to make any sort of declarative statements about his long-term ceiling, but this is about speculation in the first place.
It’s more than reasonable to review Watt’s rookie season and come away from it believing that he didn’t show enough to hold on by faith that he will emerge as a Pro Bowl-worthy pass-rusher. While he may make up for it in other areas, such as coverage, he may never be a player who is game-planned around and double-teamed in protection.