The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: Will this year’s Year Two players have better second seasons than last year’s?
There was a lot of excitement about the young talent the Steelers had just acquired on defense through the 2016 NFL Draft coming out of their rookie season. The team managed to draft three players in the first three rounds that ended up in the starting lineup by the end of the year.
Artie Burns, the first-round cornerback, played in the dime defense immediately, then in the nickel, and then by midseason was a full-time starting outside cornerback, recording three interceptions. Sean Davis opened in the slot but rotated at strong safety to begin the second half of the season before taking over. Javon Hargrave was the starting nose tackle all year, but with an inherently limited role.
I think it would be fair to say that none of those players lived up to the very high expectations that were set for them in year two, though Davis statistically would appear to have come close—yet he is the most highly-criticized. Hargrave recorded two sacks early, but then no more.
That is in no way to suggest that they had bad years or that it’s a bad sign for their future. It’s just that none of them had that breakout season we perhaps were too much in a hurry to get to. And now a year later we have two more young players who quickly emerged as starters coming into that second season.
T.J. Watt was their first-round pick, a day-one starter at outside linebacker. He had seven sacks as a rookie to go along with an interception and a forced fumble, as well as a blocked field goal. JuJu Smith-Schuster had seven touchdown receptions and over 900 yards, adding a kick return touchdown as well.
There may be even higher expectations for these players than there was for last year’s group of second-year guys. All of them will play a big role for the team this year. The question is how well they will play within that role. We have set high expectations for them. Will they rise up to that?