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: Ryan Switzer will continue to be the team’s primary kick returner in 2020.
Explanation: For the vast majority of Mike Tomlin’s tenure as head coach, the kick returner job has been an area of instability. In 2020, Ryan Switzer has the chance to become the first player ever under Tomlin to begin three seasons as the team’s starting kick returner. But he will have a challenge, not just to keep that job, but to keep a roster spot.
Let’s face it. There aren’t many other realistic options. Diontae Johnson is only a punt returner, not a kick returner, so even if they feel comfortable adding more to his plate in his second season, they’re not going to put him into a role he hasn’t done before right now.
Similarly with Anthony McFarland, he has only one kick return in his college history. Maybe he can develop into a returner over time, but the tape isn’t there, and right now he’s just trying to make the roster.
And who are your alternatives? Kerrith Whyte has the college background, but wasn’t successful doing it last season in his six games with the Steelers. Are they going to let Cameron Sutton return kicks? Not without seeing it in the preseason, which they’ve never done before. Plus he’s a defender. Beyond that, there aren’t really many other options. The best candidate is Whyte, having done kicks, but he would be lucky to make the roster.
Switzer might be the most experienced returner on the team, but he also has the largest body of evidence showing that he is not an effective returner for the Steelers in particular. He has had some of the worst return averages in the NFL over the past two seasons.
Both Whyte and McFarland are more explosive players who are capable of making tacklers miss. As long as they are capable of fielding the ball, which is a much simpler task for kicks than it is for punts, and thus much easier to do with less experience, the Steelers will be looking to make a change. And Whyte could serve as McFarland’s speed back role until he’s up to speed on offense.