Now that we’ve wrapped up the Ranking the Rooms: AFC North series here at Steelers Depot, it’s time to turn our attention to the Ranking the Starters series for the Steelers.
For clarity’s sake, we’ll run down the 24 starters, which include kicker and punter, but not long snapper or returners. Offensively, I’m going to rank the starters based on a three-wide set, with one tight end, meaning no fullback (sorry Rosie Nix fans). Defensively, I’m going to roll with the Steelers’ 3-4 defense, even though they run their nickel package much more than the actual 3-4 defense. So that means no Mike Hilton in this list.
Additionally, this list is based off my own personal rankings regarding skills, not value to the team like I did two years ago.
I’ll run down this group of 24 players in groups of three, making for an eight-piece series. Today, we’ll take a look at No. 18-16
Last season’s list:
No. 24 – Jordan Berry
No. 23 – Ross Cockrell
No. 22 – Eli Rogers
No. 21 – Jesse James
No. 20 – Artie Burns
No. 19 – Vince Williams
No. 18 – Bud Dupree
No. 17 – Chris Boswell
No. 16 – Ramon Foster
This season’s list
No. 24 – Jordan Berry
No. 23 – Tyler Matakevich
No. 22 – Sean Davis
No. 21 – Bud Dupree
No. 20 – James Washington
No. 19 – Artie Burns
Let’s take a look at this year’s starters, ranked No. 18-16.
No. 18 – Jesse James, TE
Yes, it’s very likely Vance McDonald is considered the starting tight end come September 9. But for sake of staying consistent, James played nearly 82 percent of the snaps last season, starting 14 of the 16 games he appeared in. McDonald played just over 20 percent of the snaps and started 7 of the 10 games he played in.
McDonald is a better tight end than James, but he can’t stay healthy. If there’s one thing I really, truly like about James, it’s that he is a consistent tight end. He’s always going to be available, and he had at least two receptions in 14 of the 16 games played last season.
James still struggles as a blocker, but he’s developed a great rapport with Ben Roethlisberger and has a knack for getting open in big spots. If he can improve as a blocker, James should be able to take off as a tight end in this league.
No. 17 – Vince Williams, ILB
In 2017, Williams took a big step forward for the Steelers defense under defensive coordinator Keith Butler. Williams racked up career-high 89 tackles and eight sacks last season, playing a key role next to Ryan Shazier inside before Shazier went down for the year with a spinal injury.
Williams is in the business of proving people wrong, and he sure did that for the most part last season. He still isn’t as athletic as the Steelers would like at the BUCK, but he gets by against the run. He will come off the field in obvious passing situations, but he’s a good player on an improving defense.
This season will be a big test for Williams, who will have to take on more responsibilities for the defense with some changes on the back end.
No. 16 — Javon Hargrave, NT
If you were to believe Pro Football Focus, Hargrave is just an average nose tackle in the NFL.
For me, I don’t completely buy that, simply because I think Hargrave is much more than just your traditional nose tackle. Hargrave is an athletic specimen for a man that size, and he’s at his best when he’s allowed to penetrate and find the football. This year, without Shazer behind him, Hargrave might be allowed to reek havoc in the backfield a bit more.
He flashes as a pass rusher with his strength and speed, but he was inconsistent at best last season down the stretch as a run defender.
This will be Year 3 for Hargrave. If all goes right, he makes a big leap next season in this series, but for now, he falls two spots. That should say more about the starters ahead of him than it does Hargrave.