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: Justin Hunter
Stock Value: Up
Evaluation Type: Minor, Moderate-Term
Reason: Quality of Reps, Coach Comments
The Steelers don’t generally sign free agents to second contracts, even if they are just for one year, if they don’t envision them potentially filling some sort of meaningful role. Just look at how long players like Darrius Heyward-Bey and Arthur Moats have lasted after initially being brought in on one-year, veteran-minimum contracts.
That is how Justin Hunter came to the Steelers a year ago, and though he played a very minor role with the team last season, he is back for another year. And he’s recently had his head coach, Mike Tomlin, talking him up some.
He said of the veteran wide receiver that he was just getting his feet wet in Pittsburgh a year ago and was anticipating more in his second season with the Steelers. “We are depending on him and expecting him to deliver in a big way”, he said.
Of course there is some relevant subtext to those comments and perhaps should be taken with a grain of salt, but the way the roster currently looks, and how we have seen the spring practices unfold, it’s not at all unreasonable to assume that he may well end up with some sort of meaningful niche role in the offense this year in addition to being the top backup.
That is after the Steelers traded away Martavis Bryant and failed to re-sign the injured Eli Rogers, two moves that played in Hunter’s favor. Rookie James Washington immediately jumped ahead of him and should be one of the three starters with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
But in contrast to last season, Hunter may be the next name to come up after that. He had a very brief flirtation in that role before Rogers was re-installed there last season. If there really is anything to the getting comfortable phase of a player’s career in a new city (and not to mention a new offense), then who knows?