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.
Position: Wide Receiver
Total Positional Figure: 9
Offseason Additions: 2
Offseason Deletions: 1
Antonio Brown: The best wide receiver in the game and under contract for four more seasons. There is no need to say more.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: Coming off an impressive rookie season, Smith-Schuster is looking to duplicate and build upon that success while defenses catch up to who he is. He proved to be a quality player as a deep threat and in combat catch situations.
Martavis Bryant: Last year was an up year for Bryant considering he wasn’t even in the league the season prior to that, but we all know the story here. 2018 is a contract year for him and he needs to show he is a legitimate starter, which will be hard with Brown and Smith-Schuster demanding targets.
Darrius Heyward-Bey: For now, Heyward-Bey is the number four guy. While he has occasionally served roles on offense, his roster spot is based primarily on special teams.
Justin Hunter: Brought back this offseason after having four catches a year ago, Hunter is largely insurance in case things don’t break well at the position. He was liked in the locker room though.
Marcus Tucker: Practice squad players are being considered as retentions for the purposes of this article. Tucker spent all of the 2017 season on the practice squad and could push for a roster spot as a slot weapon.
Justin Thomas: Thomas was on and off the practice squad throughout the 2017 season. Did not play in the preseason but was retained after the year was over.
Trey Griffey: You know who his father is and that’s currently the most compelling thing about him. He has height, however.
Tevin Jones: Jones has spots of college productivity, but was often dormant. Another futures player with good height, he has a tall hill to climb to make the practice squad.
Eli Rogers: While he still remains unsigned as he recovers from a torn ACL, the team has expressed interest in re-signing him when healthy. On a personal note, he reminded me of the worst part about writing about the lives of other human beings, as he recently noted an article I wrote about whether or not he would be on the roster in September. I don’t particularly like writing things that can be viewed as negative regarding people who are simply trying to do their jobs, and it’s nothing personal, but I can’t pretend that every player is great and essential to the team’s success.
Notes And Draft Outlook:
The idea of the Steelers drafting another wide receiver high in the draft is picking up steam lately, and it helps that they had shown interest in a couple of possible day-two prospects. With Bryant unlikely to return in 2019 and the only long-term prospects on the roster being Brown and Smith-Schuster, there is obvious potential not just for a body, but a significant future contributor, coming in this year through the draft.