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: David DeCastro is the only Steelers lineman who can be argued to be the top five at his position.
Explanation: While the Steelers have in recent years sent three different offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl multiple times, David DeCastro has been the player closest to matching a consistent level of play year in and year old. Maurkice Pouncey is the most decorated lineman, but both he and Alejandro Villanueva are coming off of shaky seasons.
I don’t think Alejandro Villaneuva has ever been in the discussion as being among the top five tackles in the league. Perhaps during the second half of the 2016 season, which remains the best stretch of his career, and for which he wasn’t even recognized. He played better at that time than in the two seasons in which he went to the Pro Bowl.
As for Maurkice Pouncey, I do think it’s fair to say that his reputation precedes himself. He is elevated beyond the level of his actual performance. And while he’s never been nearly as bad as, for example, Pro Football Focus has made him out to be, there are a number of very good centers in the league whom he still overshadows by reputation. Plus, he apparently has the yips right now. The other two starting positions aren’t really even in the discussion here.
The 2019 season makes it difficult to judge offensive line play for the Steelers simply because of how bad the quarterback position was. Between Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, they averaged about 2.65 seconds per throw. That ranks just outside the top 10 in the longest times to throw last season, between Derek Carr and Deshaun Watson. Both of them spent more than 2.5 seconds with the ball than they did with fewer than 2.5 seconds.
Compare that to Ben Roethlisberger last season. He averaged 2.38 seconds to throw in 2018. He threw in under 2.5 seconds on 428 dropbacks compared to 282 dropbacks longer than that. And of Hodges’ and Rudolph’s 30 combined sacks, 26 took more than 2.5 seconds, so they weren’t getting pressured early, either.
In other words, 2019 basically has to be thrown out the window. The arguments for both Pouncey and Villanueva in 2018 were a lot better than last year, and that’s unfair to them. Plus with the changeover and injuries on offense, there was no stability.