The Pittsburgh Steelers will officially open their 2018 season Thursday with their first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. While wins or losses hardly matter in the preseason, there is still many reasons to tune in. It is the first opportunity to see all your favorite names since January, it is the first glimpse at a new team and it is also the chance to uncover some hidden gems who may shine when given the opportunity. The Steelers 2018 edition of these hidden gems include outside linebackers Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and Keion Adams, receiver Tevin Jones and return man Quadree Henderson to name a few.
Can these players carve out a name for themselves on route to being a surprise addition to the Steelers 2018 campaign? It is possible as it has happened throughout the years. Now let’s turn back time and look at past Steelers players who have used an excellent preseason to create a roster spot and role for themselves.
2017 – Mike Hilton: 14 tackles, 2 sacks
Cornerback Mike Hilton was just many of the training camp bodies last offseason but now a year later, he has become the Steelers starting slot corner. Hilton has a strong camp and preseason showing to thank for that. The cornerback finished with 14 combined tackles and 13 solo tackles, tied for the team lead, along with 2 sacks. Those two sacks would be indicator of what was to come as Hilton was a destructive force coming off the corner blitz last season finishing with 4 sacks along with 2 interceptions. Not too bad for a player who just two seasons ago found himself cut by both the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots.
2016 – Eli Rogers: 10 receptions for 84 yards
Heading into the 2016 season, the Steelers were starving for some receiving depth behind Antonio Brown. With Martavis Bryant suspended, the team was holding open auditions for a receiver to step up. Eli Rogers took this opportunity and never looked back, showing promising route running and elusiveness out of the slot, finishing with 10 catches for 84 yards in the preseason. Rogers carried this into the regular season, finishing third on the team in receiving yards, just behind Brown and Le’Veon Bell with 594 receiving yards along with three touchdowns. Now two seasons later, Rogers is still with the Steelers and is rounding out a very deep receiving core.
2013 – Vince Williams: 16 tackles, 1 sack
Drafted by the Steelers in the 6th round of the 2013 draft, there was little buzz around linebacker Vince Williams. He was not ranked highly by analysts and was not even invited to the NFL Combine. Yet, Williams performed exceptionally in his rookie season even if it was not by design. Williams recorded a team high 16 tackles along with 1 sack. The team was so impressed by his performance, they released linebacker Stevenson Sylvester. Then a season ending injury to Larry Foote propelled Williams into a starting role, and he finished with 53 total tackles in 11 starts. A rookie linebacker thrown to the wolves, Williams came out alive and now five years later, is the team’s only inside linebacker who has a job secured.
2011: Antonio Brown: 9 receptions for 230 yards, 3 TDs
Brown built a nice buzz for himself coming into his sophomore 2011 season. He finished his rookie year with just 16 receptions but big, game changing receptions during the Steelers’ 2010 playoff run made Brown a player to keep an eye on. Brown made sure he became a player you could not take your eyes off of during his 2011 preseason, finishing with 9 receptions for 230 yards and three touchdowns. It was obvious at this point that Brown had surpassed Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Hines Ward on the depth chart and in return he produced his first (of many) 1000-yard seasons. The story of Antonio Brown, has now become the legend of Antonio Brown, as week by week, the wide receiver continues to amaze the world and history books with his ability.
With the first preseason game on the horizon, the chance and excitement to find the next diamond in the rough is growing. The Steelers have many intriguing names who could become instant contributors and long-term assets. Starting Thursday, these players will be given their chance to audition their talents, the only question is who will take their opportunity and run with it?