Ranking The Steelers Starters: 9-7

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. 9-7.

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
No. 15- Alejandro Villanueva
No. 14 – Javon Hargrave
No. 13 – James Harrison
No. 12 – Sean Davis
No. 11 – Martavis Bryant
No. 10 – David DeCastro
No. 9 – Mike Mitchell
No. 8 – Maurkice Pouncey
No. 7 – Cam Heyward

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
No. 18 – Jesse James
No. 17 – Vince Williams
No. 16 – Javon Hargrave
No. 15 – TJ Watt
No. 14 – Alejandro Villanueva
No. 13 – Ramon Foster
No. 12 – Morgan Burnett
No. 11 – Chris Boswell
No. 10 – Marcus Gilbert

Let’s take a look at this year’s list of starters No. 9-7.

No. 9 – Maurkice Pouncey, C

Pouncey falls one spot in the rankings this year, but that’s due to younger guys ascending past him, not based on his play.

Pro Football Focus graded Pouncey as a poor center last season, and I just didn’t see it. Pouncey was once again elite at run blocking, pulling left and right with ease to get out in front of Le’Veon Bell, and was great at getting to the second level, putting a hat on linebackers to spring Bell.

In pass protection, he’s still very solid along the interior of the offensive line, holding his own against strong defensive tackles and blitzing linebackers. He has a tough task ahead of him this season, drawing the likes of Gerald McCoy (Tampa Bay), Chris Jones (Kansas City) Kawaan Short (Carolina), and Grady Jarrett (Atlanta) among others.

No. 8 – JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR

What a rookie season that was!

Smith-Schuster burst onto the scene in a big way in Pittsburgh, becoming one of Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite targets, as well as a fan favorite quickly in the city of Pittsburgh.

Versatile enough to play out of the slot or on the boundary, Smith-Schuster has a feel for creating enough room against man or zone to exploit defenses. He’s still just 21 years old (will turn 22 in November), but he’s on the fast track for superstardom in the NFL, especially with his social media, touchdown celebration, and big hit exploits.

No. 7 – Joe Haden, CB

After coming over from the Cleveland Browns right before the start of the 2017 season, Joe Haden transitioned quickly into the Steelers’ defense, providing a much-needed boost to a secondary in desperate need of star power.

While Haden wasn’t as great as he was in Cleveland, I think a lot of that had to do with the transition to zone defense (for the most part) and a new defensive philosophy right away.  He was still pretty darn good in his first year as a Steeler.

The broken leg didn’t do Haden any favors, but he came back strong from the injury and played well, aside from the Week 17 matchup with the Browns at Heinz Field. With an added season under his belt, and the chance to have a full off-season and training camp with the Steelers, Haden should return to his ways as a lock-down cornerback on the left side of the defense.

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