Now that the 2019 NFL Draft is underway, and the roster heading into the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we head toward training camp.
Player: RB Jaylen Samuels
Stock Value: Up
This one is pretty conditional, as it hinges on the notion of the coaching staff actually following through with something that they spend time toying with in the offseason. And I think you know that most concept die long before they hit the practice field during the regular season. Even things they run throughout the preseason are discarded once the scoreboard starts to mean something.
One thing the coaching staff spent time playing around with during the first week of OTAs, though, was with the two-back set, with James Conner and Jaylen Samuels on the field together. And I do think that there are few reasons to believe this could be a more serious experimentation than others in the past.
For one thing, in contrast to Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, Conner and Samuels have a more clearly individuated skill set that could complement one another. Another big one for me is simply the fact that Antonio Brown is gone. I could see a ‘see what sticks’ approach taken in the aftermath of figuring out what to do with all those extra targets and snaps.
Then there’s Randy Fichtner himself. He’s going into just his second season as offensive coordinator and as such is still developing his identity in that regard. One thing that he did show in his first season in that role is his willingness to toy with a concept and stick to it. The four-receiver set became a legitimate staple of the offense from the start of the season until late—when it was replaced with five-receiver sets after Eli Rogers was promoted from the Physically Unable to Perform List.
In my opinion, the biggest thing regarding whether or not this is going to be used is simply whether or not it’s effective when they try it. If it works, they keep doing it. If not, they stop it. But I also think it’s an indication of their desire to get Samuels some extra snaps. That’s something that even Mike Tomlin talked about during the preseason last year, when he was still behind Stevan Ridley and they didn’t know Le’Veon Bell wouldn’t be showing up.