The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Sixth-year veteran Daniel McCullers is a virtual roster lock for the 53.
Explanation: McCullers has seemingly been on or near the roster bubble for most of his career, but often without much competition. It’s somewhat unclear what kind of challenge there will be for him, if any, this season.
Considering there are no other true nose tackles on the roster, I would say it’s a fair assessment. While it’s a dying breed, the prototypical defensive guard position still has a niche, sub-package role in today’s NFL, such as at the goal line, and sometimes in short-yardage situations, though even in this scenarios the passing game is becoming increasingly prominent.
McCullers did show legitimate growth overall last season, and I think that was a combination of his realization that he really has to earn his keep now and the fact that he seemed to have a better relationship with Karl Dunbar. Perhaps a second year in that partnership will continue to serve him well.
The Steelers tried to use a lighter body at nose tackle with L.T. Walton in 2017 but he didn’t hold up, so I wouldn’t be promising anything to a Lavon Hooks or a Casey Sayles, unless Isaiah Buggs, who is under 300 pounds, somehow pulls down that role.
I must admit that the ‘buy’ option here seems more plausible than normal, as I try to pose questions with more balance. The fact is McCullers has managed to keep his roster spot for five years already, even when many, if not most, thought 2017 would be his last.
With that said, the Steelers are looking for more pass rush even from their defensive tackles, and that is not McCullers’ game, even if he claimed to have added a spin move to his repertoire last year. Guys like Buggs and Hooks are more apt to have that. Walton didn’t, and he also proved to be physically overmatched inside.
Somebody like Hooks or Buggs could counter that with athleticism and hand placement, something that Javon Hargrave can show them. Hargrave himself is only a few steaks over 300 pounds himself, after all. I personally like Hooks and he’s come on strong the past two preseasons. I’d like to see him get a legitimate shot to make the team in his fifth offseason. He’s been on the practice squad for the past two years.