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: Undrafted rookie guard Fred Johnson has at least a 50/50 chance of making the 53-man roster.
Explanation: Johnson was one of multiple offensive linemen that the Steelers signed as free agents following the 2019 NFL Draft, but he is the one who has received the most consistently positive attention. He has gotten run with the second-team group, and the team has been dabbling with position flexibility.
One thing playing in his favor is that the Steelers obviously have a history of giving undrafted linemen a chance. They have two in the starting lineup, possibly three if Matt Feiler wins the right tackle job, and of the group, Ramon Foster did make the team outright without having to spend a year on the practice squad.
There is a job open for a backup interior lineman, especially so if Feiler indeed beats out Chukwuma Okorafor. Okorafor is an outside-only player right now. His primary competition figures to be Patrick Morris, who is a more natural center, and perhaps Derwin Gray or Jerald Hawkins, who tackles who are being flexed to play guard.
While the Steelers do have four former undrafted linemen who are virtual locks to make the 53-man roster, the reality is that most of them have to spend a year or more on the practice squad before they make it through to the next plateau.
One thing to consider is that flexing inside to center is much more difficult than learning guard or tackle. Learning to snap the ball when you’ve never done it before is a whole new element, so I don’t know that this versatility will count much in his favor this year. Feiler will be the emergency center behind B.J. Finney unless somebody like Morris or J.C. Hassenauer wins the second backup interior lineman job.
The team also tends to give greater consideration to draft picks, and a guy like Gray has been doing well this camp too. And he has already been more successful in learning guard from the tackle position, offering meaningful and substantial versatility.