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: Jaylen Samuels will not make the 53-man roster in 2020.
Explanation: Even though he received the lion’s share of the snaps while James Conner was out with injury, second-year running back Jaylen Samuels put up some pretty ugly efficiency numbers, and Benny Snell was clearly favored as the featured runner. With Kerrith Whyte an option and the possibility of adding a draft pick, it’s reasonable to speculate whether or not the former fifth-round pick will make it onto the 53-man roster next season.
Right now, it seems unlikely that the Steelers are going to sign Conner to an extension this offseason. That leaves the door open for the possibility that he walks in free agency, and thus creates the impetus to put the running back position on the draft needs list.
Obviously, adding another running back in the draft would hurt Samuels’ chances of sticking around, and as far as the pecking order goes, I would assume that Conner and Snell would be regarded as locks. Then there is Whyte, who emerged as the team’s kick returner toward the end of the season and even presented a bit of a spark that could potentially be developed.
Whyte offers something more different from the rest of the group than does Samuels. He can catch, but so can Conner, and he’s much better in pass protection as well. Presumably, Whyte could work in the passing game as well if needed.
It can’t be dismissed the amount of work Samuels got while Conner was absent. Remember, they even used packages in which both of them were on the field at the same time. Ben Roethlisberger liked working with him, who will better serve his skill set.
While Whyte does have the special teams feather in his cap, the reality is that the Steelers could easily keep four running backs. After all, they finished last season with five. There doesn’t seem to be a pressing need to carry six wide receivers in 2020, especially if Whyte and Diontae Johnson are their return men. So that gives Samuels some buffer room even if Whyte sticks or a running back is drafted.