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: T Jerald Hawkins
Roster Vulnerability: Low
Role Vulnerability: Low-Medium
Draft day is here, so we’ll wrap up our risk assessment series along with it. Not that our final installment here is likely to be impacted by anything that happens in the first round. We are talking about third-year offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins, a fourth-round draft pick in 2016, who is currently projected to take on a big role this season.
The LSU product is currently expected to assume the swing tackle role previously occupied by Chris Hubbard for most of the past two seasons, and Hawkins has far less in-game experience. After spending all of his rookie season on injured reserve, he was inactive for the first half of the 2017 season.
He did pass Matt Feiler as the fourth tackle on the depth chart, so when Marcus Gilbert was suspended for four games late in the year and Hubbard took over at right tackle, it was Hawkins rather than Feiler who was the backup.
He saw all of one snap as a traditional lineman, actually replacing Alejandro Villanueva for one snap at left tackle, but he played several dozen snaps over the final six games of the season as a tackle-eligible tight end, serving as an extra blocker. He had mixed results there.
With Hubbard moving on in free agency, it’s quite possible the Steelers look to add another offensive lineman in the draft. The team has only drafted two since Mike Muncak has been aboard, and considering it’s the group traditionally with the most players, that is a bit unusual.
Even if they do draft a tackle, however, it wouldn’t necessarily bump Hawkins from the roster if the team is able to and wants to carry nine linemen, as they are currently projected to have eight. They frequently do end up carrying only eight linemen though, or cutting the ninth lineman when an injury arises and a roster move must be made.