Now that the 2020 offseason has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past season, and with notice to anything that happens going forward.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: ILB Vince Williams
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Vince Williams is about as experienced as they come on this defense and in this system. The depth behind him is young. The limitations of the offseason will only serve to strengthen his grip on ensured playing time and a starting role in 2020.
A sixth-round draft pick in 2013, Williams has been in Pittsburgh longer than anybody on the defensive side of the ball other than Cameron Heyward. A couple of other players—Joe Haden and Tyson Alualu—have more NFL experience, but the linebacker has been in this defense for four more years than either of them.
Last season, when the Steelers signed Mark Barron in free agency, it resulted in Williams losing his starting job, though he still got a good chunk of playing time. With Barron being released early in the offseason, that immediately put him back in the position to start, where he should be expected to see 70-plus percent of the snaps.
That is in part because the depth behind him has zero defensive snaps. That’s Ulysees Gilbert III, a 2019 sixth-round pick, and Robert Spillane, a former undrafted free agent. Neither of them have had more than eight games on the 53-man roster.
There is a lot of enthusiasm about Gilbert’s potential, thanks to his athleticism, but all the athleticism in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t have the experience to be able to apply it, so we shouldn’t be penciling him in for any kind of meaningful playing time. It’s worth remember that he spent half of his rookie season on injured reserve recovering from a back injury, an injury that robbed him of much of this offseason as well.
And Spillane? At best, he’s Tyler Matakevich 2.0. The Steelers are certainly not going to sub out Williams to play Spillane under any circumstance short of mere fatigue. That is especially so given how limited their offseason has been and will continue to be in terms of on-field participation.