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. That also means no Jon Bostic, because as of right now, Tyler Matakevich is the projected starter based on everything I’ve read.
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. 21-19.
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
This season’s list
No. 24 – Jordan Berry
No. 23 – Tyler Matakevich
No. 22 – Sean Davis
Let’s take a look at this season’s No. 21-19.
No. 21 – Bud Dupree, OLB
The 2017 season was another rough one for Bud Dupree, who falls three spots from No. 18 prior to the 2017 season.
Drafted to be a feared pass rusher on the edge, Dupree hasn’t lived up to the hype, aside from an eight-game stretch to the close the 2016 season. He’s far too inconsistent with his process rushing the passer, and seems to get pushed up the arc too easily.
Where Dupree does excel is against the run, where he’s fundamentally sound, helping the Steelers turn backs back in towards the middle of the field.
This is a make-or-break year for Dupree. He continues to train with noted pass rushing guru Chuck Smith, and attended Von Miller’s pass rushing summit this summer. Hopefully Dupree learned something over the summer, can stay healthy, and really develop into that feared pass rusher the Steelers hoped he was when they drafted him.
No. 20 – James Washington, WR
Arguably the most-ready receiver in the 2018 NFL draft, James Washington should step in right away as the Z receiver for the Steelers, allowing JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown to rotate in and out of the slot and the X receiver position.
Washington isn’t a burner, but he’s great at contested catches, and really has a knack for stretching the field. Much like Smith-Schuster did last season, Washington will have a similar impact right from the get-go for the Steelers.
No. 19 – Artie Burns, CB
Burns rises one spot from last season to this season, even though he saw his interceptions drop from 3 to 1, and his tackles drop from 65 to 54. That being said, Burns was a bit better in coverage, aside from a few mental lapses, and was much more sound as a tackler, missing just eight tackles last season compared to 13 in 2016.
The third-year corner seemed to gain confidence as a cover corner after the Steelers brought in veteran Joe Haden opposite him. The move allowed Burns to take over No. 2 duties, where he was able to go through growing pains without being exposed on a weekly basis.
With added experience under his belt, and added confidence, this is a big year for Burns. He needs to put up the performance the Steelers expected when he was drafted, or he could see his window with the Steelers closing faster than expected.