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: Deon Cain is too similar to the rest of the wide receiver room to be favored to win a roster spot.
Explanation: While JuJu Smith-Schuster is the tallest of the older white receivers (Chase Claypool is now the tallest), he has primarily been playing in the slot. James Washington, Diontae Johnson, and Claypool, however, are all more similar to Cain in the role they would fill in the offense, especially Washington and Claypool, which makes his skillset redundant. Add in his non-contributor status on special teams, and one has to question whether he will make the team.
He played here for six games and caught five passes for 72 yards. He also drew two penalties. But he’s not exactly the next Antonio Brown. He’s not even the next Martavis Bryant. He’s a guy who was already let go by his original team, and who was even sitting on the practice squad for a while ready to be plucked by somebody else.
Within another roster construction, Cain’s chances of making the team would be a lot better, but they need somebody else who can reliably play in the slot in the event of an injury. And by reliably, I mean in terms of executing assignments and understanding the spatial game that is played in the middle of the field. Right now, that’s Ryan Switzer.
There’s a good chance that Switzer is not going to be asked to play on special teams anyway, with Johnson taking over punt returns, and they always throw the kick return job around, so that’s not a big feather in his cap, either.
Cain may not have been here long, but he showed the type of talent that he has. He’s not going to be guaranteed a roster spot heading into training camp, but you know the coaching staff is going to want to get a nice, long look at him, and they work with all of their receivers on position flexibility. Washington played about 25 percent of his snaps in the slot last year, for example, largely when Smith-Schuster was injured. Johnson should be better-trained to play there in 2020 as well.