There’s no way of getting around the fact that NFL rosters are cyclical in nature. Every year at a minimum hundreds upon hundreds of new players under the labor market for just 32 NFL teams, each of whom field 63 players per season, plus those on injured reserve.
With hundreds of players drafted every year and just as many if not more coming in as undrafted free agents, it’s inevitable that some of the 2000-plus players with NFL contracts from the season before are going to lose their spots. Some teams see far more turnover than others on a regular basis.
As we get close to the draft, I want to do some risk assessment for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster based on their current needs and how they have handled them in free agency, compared to how they typically go about handling their business in the draft.
Asset: OLB Anthony Chickillo
Roster Vulnerability: Zero-Low
Role Vulnerability: Low-Medium
The outside linebacker position is certainly not the deepest part of the Steelers’ roster right now, and a year ago they couldn’t even find a helmet for James Harrison. But Harrison, now retired, is gone, and so is Arthur Moats. At least for now. The latter could potentially be revisited as an option after the draft depending on what happens.
But if the draft goes really well for the outside linebacker position, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see even Chickillo knocked off the roster, even if the chances of that are low. If the Steelers draft two outside linebackers, for example, that would still make Chickillo the fifth, and his special teams contributions make him a likely extra body.
Much more likely would be him losing his role as the top backup outside linebacker behind starters T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Especially with decisions looming about Dupree’s future, both literally and existentially, there is a very real chance that the Steelers address this area of the team with a high pick.
Depending upon whom they draft, Chickillo could still keep his role as the spot starter if somebody were to miss a game. He actually started two games early last year when Dupree and then Watt missed a game apiece.
But as an in-game rotational player to spell the starters, it’s very possible that a rookie would present a more immediate impact, especially if he offers something as a pass-rusher. Chickillo’s success on a down-to-down basis getting after the quarterback has been fairly pedestrian.
There isn’t anything that he really does particularly well, but nor is there anything that he does particularly poorly. There remain those who are highly optimistic about what type of player he can be, but if he is going to show anything substantial, this season would be the time to do it as he enters his fourth season.