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: Ulysees Gilbert III will be a starter in the future.
Explanation: It’s not uncommon for late-round picks to gain fan support. Daniel McCullers and Tyler Matakevich were both fan favorites. Now almost everyone is glad the latter is gone while they hate the former and want him gone, too. Ulysees Gilbert III is the latest late-round pick to have a following, but the difference is that he may have the tools to be an above-the-line player.
That is the biggest difference. McCullers may have size, but he doesn’t have the fundamentals and technique and athleticism necessary to be a ‘starting’ defensive tackle. Matakevich never had the athleticism necessary to play defense in the NFL. He was exposed just about every time he had to play.
That couldn’t happen to Gilbert. While being falsely characterized as undersized, he is in a pretty rare category when it comes to speed at his position. Speed is one thing that you can’t teach. And we’ve already seen him (or read about him) making plays and turning heads for two offseasons now.
Vince Williams no longer fits what the Steelers or anybody does on defense anymore, at least in terms of being an every-down backer. If the 2020 season isn’t his last, then the 2021 season will be, at which point Gilbert may well have the opportunity to step in. He will probably have the chance to get on the field this year already.
Gilbert is basically preseason Matakevich with Travis Feeney athleticism. Matakevich was making all kind of plays against backups during the preseason. Feeney was an athlete, but he didn’t measure up. Just because Gilbert has made plays against backups in exhibition settings and has athleticism doesn’t mean he has the talent to be a starter.
Assuming that the Steelers do eventually move on from Williams—he is getting old, admittedly—it’s more likely that they draft somebody rather than hand him the job. The Steelers never handed Williams a job, after all. They drafted Ryan Shazier. And that was after he played well in a limited ‘starting’ role as a rookie. He only started years later after Lawrence Timmons left and they failed to land one in the draft.