We started this series with less than two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 10 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed four of them, those being Le’Veon Bell, Justin Hunter, Stevan Ridley, and Daniel McCullers. The only unrestricted free agent to sign elsewhere has been Chris Hubbard. They resigned nine exclusive rights or restricted free agents, from Fitzgerald Toussaint and Mike Hilton to Chris Boswell and Roosevelt Nix.
Also of note were the released of William Gay, Mike Mitchell, and Robert Golden, the three most veteran players in the secondary. The team has signed three outside free agents in Jon Bostic, Morgan Burnett, and Nat Berhe. Now we examine how these moves and their pre-draft hints shape their future based on position since the offseason has begun.
Total Positional Figure: 6
Offseason Additions: 2
Offseason Deletions: 1
Alejandro Villanueva: While he didn’t quite play up to the highest level of his 2016 season, he also didn’t play as poorly as his lowest moments of the previous season. Villanueva is, I hope, working into a certain level of consistency as he enters his fourth season at left tackle. His hand and feet usage remains his strengths, but he can struggle to put everything together at once.
Marcus Gilbert: Injuries and suspensions badly checkered Gilbert’s 2017 season, but he was his usual Pro Bowl-caliber self when he was on the field. It’s unfortunate how much time he spends off the field because there’s no other reason for him not being more widely recognized.
Matt Feiler: A three-year practice squad veteran, Feiler made the roster finally last year after his eligibility for the squad ran out. He began the season as the number three tackle ahead of Jerald Hawkins though was later passed. He started the finale at right guard but is capable of playing inside and out.
Jerald Hawkins: A third-year player now after being selected in the fourth round in 2016, Hawkins has the opportunity to step into the swing tackle role this year. He served in that capacity for four games in the second half of the season but didn’t have to play much. He got some work in as a tackle-eligible with mixed results.
Larson Graham: An UDFA out of Duquesne, the Steelers just recently added Graham. Though under 300 pounds, he was a college tackle and has the height. Pittsburgh lists him there and no doubt plans to beef him up.
Joseph Cheek: Another recent UDFA addition, Cheek has spent some time with teams last year and even earlier this year. He was briefly on the Chiefs’ practice squad in 2017. A 6’6” or better prospect with NFL bloodlines. Also played both inside and outside.
Chris Hubbard: Netting himself a substantial contract in free agency that pays him more than Gilbert, Hubbard had been extremely valuable the past two seasons, starting most of the 2017 season at right tackle, and will be difficult to replace.
Notes And Draft Outlook:
Until just recently, the Steelers only had four tackles on the roster including Feiler. Given that they just lost their top backup, and their backup-in-waiting has almost no experience, it’s reasonable if tackle is on their board. They can also given consideration to the fact that Gilbert’s contract is up in two years and he will be 32 by the end of it.