The Pittsburgh Steelers made a necessary – and I mean that, necessary – signing, inking guard/center Stefen Wisniewski to a two-year deal late Thursday night.
Which begs an obvious question. What are the Steelers getting with this guy? Hindsight is always 20/20 and I thought he might be a little too old to be on Pittsburgh’s radar but there’s plenty of dots to connect him to the Burgh. He literally grew up in the city, attended Central Catholic HS (a powerhouse, for those who are unaware). He attended Penn State and in 2016, the Steelers brought him in for a visit before he turned them down to sign with Philadelphia.
After watching several games of his last season with Kansas City, the cliff notes version of this signing is that Wisniewski is competent, needed interior depth with center and guard versatility. He’s played in 134 games, 103 starts, a known entity for a Steelers’ o-line undergoing rapid change. So let’s break down his strengths and weaknesses and talk to the tape. I’ll have a scouting report and overview after we check out specific plays.
Wisniewski is average here. He plays with good leverage, leg drive, and overall technique. He can struggle flowing laterally on zone schemes and works best in a man/gap concept where he can pull and hit a target. Like this pull, he’s the left guard #61 in all these clips, getting square at the second level and covering up the linebacker.
Nice combo block to work to the LB to seal the Super Bowl for the Chiefs this past season. Sprung a 38 yard touchdown.
But here’s the issue with him moving laterally. Unable to stay down the line and loses this block.
He isn’t the most athletic player anymore and while he didn’t end up on the ground a lot, there were moments where things looked ugly.
Wisniewski plays with excellent play and grip strength, showing the ability to sit and anchor against bull and power rushes. His hands tend to get a little wide on the snap but he packs authority on his punch and once he locks on, routinely is able to take control of blocks.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) March 20, 2020
As you’d expect from a veteran, he’s a crafty player who knows the tricks of the trade. He likes to flash and fake a punch to bait pass rushers into showing their move, like in these two clips. Watch his left hand flash off the snap.
And he has a good sense of potential blitzers, working with active eyes and finding work.
But he struggles against quicker, more athletic pass rushers. His feet tend to go dead and he’ll lean and double-over, losing the edge and allowing pressure. It’s not just a lack of athleticism he has, though that plays a role, but some footwork that could be cleaned up so he stays square to the rusher and isn’t attacking half-man.
One other thing I like about his pass pro experience? The past few years, he’s been playing with Carson Wentz and Patrick Mahomes. Two QBs known for extending the play, running around, where the o-line knows they have to be prepared to block for 5+ seconds. Ben Roethlisberger is far from “Backyard Ben,” but he doesn’t mind taking his time to get rid of the ball every now and then so Wisniewski won’t have to adjust to the idea. Minor, I know, but I like having that on his resume.
Here’s the scouting report I’d write on him.
– Technician in the run game who understands leverage, angles, and runs his feet
– Works well in a man/gap scheme where he can square up to blockers, doesn’t show a great burst as a puller but enough to stay on track and able to hit a moving target
– Upper body strength, able to sit and anchor against power/bull rushes and doesn’t get bullied
– Active eyes to pick up blitzers when uncovered, though stunt pickup technique could use some work, struggles to stay on same level and can be a little late to recognize/react when he’s covered up
– Crafty player who mixes up set/punch in pass protection, knows tricks of the trade to keep rushers guessing
– Good grip strength who locks onto players with proper leverage/positioning
– Experience in extended plays in pass pro, doesn’t give up and finishes through the whistle
– Average to below average athlete who struggles flowing laterally in zone schemes
– Feet go dead too often against speed/edge moves in pass pro, causes him to lean and double-over, isn’t big/long enough to always ride defenders upfield and vulnerable to getting beat wide
– Would like to see his hands stay inside out of his stance, gets a little wide and low, which hurts him when he tries to aim his strike
– Capable run blocker but far from dominant and doesn’t generate a huge push, executes the job and not much more
Ok so big question, what’s his role in 2020? Could he start at left guard? I’m not going to rule that out, and according to the Post-Gazette, Wisniewski was told he’ll have the chance to compete. But I’m not confident, nor all that comfortable, envisioning him as a 16 game starter. That hasn’t happened since 2015. Long time ago by league standards. There’s a reason why he was a free agent for the first six weeks in 2019 before KC signed him off the street.
If it were up to me, Matt Feiler would still move to left guard. Should the RT battle between Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner not go well, then Feiler could always shift back to right tackle and Wisniewski to guard. But ideally, he should be the top interior swingman, first man off the bench at guard and center. Pair him with a draft pick, someone in the top four rounds, and you’ve done a good job of reestablishing o-line depth.
Overall, Wisniewski is a quality, though unspectacular signing but the type of guy this team had to add in free agency.