There are many ideas that come to mind as I contemplate the implications of an NFL season played during a pandemic. There are still unforeseen consequences that will be felt that have generally not yet been considered—hopefully not from the sense of protecting against the spread of the virus.
But one thing to consider is the likelihood that ‘versatility’ more than ever will be valued by those who have the final say in making the 53-man roster this year. Just think about it. You don’t know if your team might suffer an outbreak and will be forced to put players in quarantine. You don’t know what players might be affected.
So you’re going to want to have as many players on the roster as possible capable of doing as many things as they can manage for their skill set. And this applies both to the 53-man roster and to what sounds like it’s going to be at 16-man practice squad.
Take, for example, new tight end Dax Raymond. He showed in college that he is a versatile player. He is capable of handling the h-back role, so he could function as the number two fullback in the event that Derek Watt were to be quarantined. And he could be on the practice squad and called up to fill in while Watt is on some reserve list during that quarantine period.
A guy like Derwin Gray is really going to want to show that he can play both tackle and guard, and maybe throw some center snaps in there just for good measure. Just about every lineman on the team short of David DeCastro should be asked to at least be able to play both the left and right side. Even Maurkice Pouncey has actually started a game at guard before in the NFL.
In the secondary, versatility will be huge, and luckily the Steelers do have some versatile players who are shoe-ins to make the team, namely Minkah Fitzpatrick, Mike Hilton, and perhaps especially Cameron Sutton, who can play inside, outside, at safety, or as a dime defender. He could be immensely valuable this year.
This is also just an important reminder in general that the best 53 players and the best 53-man roster are never the same thing. What constitutes the best roster will morph year by year, usually shaped by the makeup of your players, but sometimes even dictated by circumstance, like rule changes—or pandemics, apparently.
It’s just one of many things that teams will have to consider heading into training camp, especially since there will be no preseason. They will want to afford players as much opportunity as they can spare to flesh our their repertoire and show what they can offer, especially fringe players who need that edge to state their case, even if for a practice squad spot.