There’s no way of getting around the fact that NFL rosters are cyclical in nature. Every year at a minimum, hundreds upon hundreds of new players enter the labor market for just 32 NFL teams, each of whom field 63 players per season, plus those on injured reserve and other non-active lists.
With hundreds of players drafted every year and just as many if not more coming in as undrafted free agents, it’s inevitable that some of the 2000-plus players with NFL contracts from the season before are going to lose their spots. Some teams see far more turnover than others on a regular basis.
As we get close to the draft, I want to do some risk assessment for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster based on their current needs and how they have handled them in free agency, compared to how they typically go about handling their business in the draft.
Asset: P Jordan Berry
Roster Vulnerability: Low/Medium
Role Vulnerability: Low/Medium
Both of the Steelers’ specialist kickers last season underperformed in comparison to the league average. Chris Boswell was the substantially worse of the two in 2018, but also has had the better overall career. Pittsburgh also has another kicker, Matt McCrane, on the roster already. McCrane kicked for them in the season finale and hit all three attempts, including a game-winner.
Because of that, some, including Bob Labriola, believe it’s more likely that the Steelers will use one of their 10 draft picks on a punter before they would bring in another kicker. Pittsburgh has already been very clear that there will be a kicking competition, but it wouldn’t be surprising if there was one for the punting job as well.
Berry posted the worst net punting average of his career in 2018 at 38.8 yards per punt, though that was a bit deflated due to a long punt return touchdown that, in all fairness, should have been negated by a penalty for an illegal blocking the back that was not called.
While his gross average of 43.7 yards per attempt was the second-highest of his four-year career, the reality is that that simply is not good by league-wide standards. His average ranked tied for 29th in the NFL last season, his net punting finishing 27th. 15 punters had a net average of 40 yards or better, with four punters having a net average within one yard of Berry’s gross average.
Normally successful at avoiding touchbacks, he had four last season, which placed him outside of the top 10. His 16 returned punts were among the fewest in the NFL, but he was also on the lower to middle spectrum in total punts and his 227 return yards allowed were 16th-most.
All told, with Berry now beyond his rookie contract and not clearly showing development entering his fifth season, it would be fair to wonder if the Steelers will bring in another punter to compete with him this summer.