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: Somebody other than Cameron Heyward will be a 10-sack player in 2018.
There are at least a couple of candidates, in my opinion, though I wouldn’t expect Vince Williams to be one. Eight sacks for a 3-4 inside linebacker is an aberration that is not exactly common to see duplicated. That’s more than Lawrence Timmons ever had, and the third-most in team history for a linebacker who plays off the ball.
Still, there are at least two really solid candidates, and maybe a third worthy of consideration. The first would be last year’s first-rounder, T.J. Watt, whose seven sacks were the second-most by a rookie in team history. LaMarr Woodley went from four sacks as a role player to 11 and a half in year two, and he did show progress as a pass-rusher as the year went on.
The other major candidate is Stephon Tuitt, who a couple of years ago was right on pace with Heyward. He was supposed to have a breakout year but was injured on the second play of the opener. He’s every bit as physically gifted as Heyward. If he can finish more plays he can easily break out for double digits.
The longshot is Bud Dupree. If injury has really been that big of a factor for him the past two years, then it’s within the realm of possibility. At the very least, he does create some sacks purely through his athleticism or with inside rushes, and those could add up. 10 from six isn’t a crazy jump, and they don’t have to be quality sacks.
Of course the odds of them going from half a decade without a double-digit rusher to having back-to-back seasons in which two different players achieve that feat are probably not great. Nobody even had nine sacks during that run. I think Jason Worilds may have once tapped out at eight and a half.
I don’t think I need to make an argument for people to sell on Dupree. A lot of people are down on Tuitt right now too after playing through injuries last year, and the truth is that he does really need to finish more plays. That needs to be seen to be believed. As for Watt, he might struggle to even get enough pass-rush opportunities to put up double digits since he drops into coverage about 35 percent of the time.