Now that the 2018 NFL Draft is in the books, and the roster heading into the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we head toward training camp.
Player: L.T. Walton
Stock Value: Down
Evaluation Type: Moderate, Long-Term
Reason: Depth, Role
L.T. Walton was virtually a starter by the end of the 2016 by virtue of injuries. Cameron Heyward was on injured reserve, and the backup defensive end they signed earlier in the offseason was also dealing with ankle issue that limited him, so the second-year defensive lineman was asked to log a lot of snaps.
And he actually showed that he had some talent to him. So the Steelers looked to expand his role this past season, giving him reps at nose tackle. This was fueled in part by their desire to at least challenge Daniel McCullers, whom the team waited too many years to show improvement.
So Walton served as the primary backup nose tackle last year, but with Tyson Alualu brought in, his role was still reduced. Most importantly, perhaps, he did have his struggles matching up against interior offensive linemen in that nose tackle role. He clearly looked more comfortable as a defensive end.
While they did re-sign McCullers, the Steelers also drafted Joshua Frazier in the seventh round. Frazier’s college position coach is also the team’s new defensive line coach, so there’s a very good chance he makes the roster.
There is also the possibility that he earns that backup nose tackle role and thus gets a helmet on Sundays, which could come at Walton’s expense unless they keep six defensive linemen active on Sundays. The only times that they ever really do that is when a starter is dealing with an injury and might be limited in the game, however.
It’s also worth noting that Walton is entering the final season of his rookie contract, so he will be a free agent next year (as will Alualu). He is in a contract year, but it might be difficult for him to get on the field.
The scenario in which he likely will log his most extensive playing time this season, assuming that he dresses, is in the nickel defense, working with Alualu while Heyward and Stephon Tuitt get some reps off. He will have to show his versatility in that role as he heads into the unknown in 2019 and beyond.