Are you ready for some more post-draft power rankings? I know that you are, so let’s dig in. The latest power rankings come to us from none other than ESPN, posting their first rankings installment yesterday morning since the draft took place last month.
As a matter of fact, this isn’t just post-draft power rankings, but post-free agency power rankings, so this is re-evaluating teams not just since they made their draft selections, but since they lost and gained players via free agency. But for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it really didn’t change much.
Heading into free agency, ESPN had the Steelers ranked 15th in the league. After the draft, they are now ranked 14th…one spot ahead of the New England Patriots, at least, who were previously ranked 13th. The site’s Steelers blogger, Brooke Pryor, provided the blurb for the team in the list, citing players who have benefited the most from the process, in her view Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph:
The quarterbacks came away from the draft with new playmakers and more job security. Roethlisberger got Martavis Bryant 2.0 with WR Chase Claypool, and the team didn’t draft a quarterback, further solidifying Rudolph’s job as the backup and potential heir apparent whenever Roethlisberger retires. Rudolph had a rocky 2019 season, but the team believes in developing him with the help of new QB coach Matt Canada. All of the moves signal that they believe Roethlisberger will be at full strength whenever the season starts, and they want to make his job as easy as possible.
Frankly, if Roethlisberger’s health were secure, then I feel the Steelers should easily be ranked much higher, potentially even in the top five. They arguably have a better defense than the teams with the top offenses in the league, such as the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens.
But, of course, Roethlisberger is a big, fat question mark. Even if he comes in and is able to play all 16 games, we don’t know to what level he will be able to perform. And we won’t know—not even he will know himself—until he’s on the field and actually doing it.
The only significant piece that the Steelers lost from last season is Javon Hargrave, but at the same time they also regain Stephon Tuitt, who missed the final 10-plus games, so that’s a wash, more or less. The biggest variable for them this year should be health.
Between Roethlisberger and Tuitt, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, some of their very most important players on the team dealt with injuries for the majority, even vast majority, of the 2019 season, and that very much limited their potential.
Assuming better fortune in the health department this year, they clearly have a much higher ceiling than they did a year ago. And, outside of the quarterback position, they have spent the offseason insulating themselves against these injuries again, with the additions of Anthony McFarland, Chase Claypool, and Chris Wormley.