The opt out deadline came and went in the NFL and 67 players decided it was best for their safety, and that of their family’s, to remain off the football field this year. The deadline came in the midst of major outbreaks across baseball teams in the MLB, which likely influenced individual player decisions. Despite safety protocols and frequent testing, the MLB is on a dangerous path that has left many wondering if the shortened season will make it to the end.
The NFL, and prominent names throughout the league, have had similar shifts in thinking as just over a month ago the league was “optimistic”, but now respected league veterans like Mike Tomlin are “not extremely confident” the league can make it through a full 16 games. Why would they be, after all?
The Steelers were fortunate to avoid any opt outs as many other teams around the league can not say the same. In this series, I will highlight the key opposing players of the Steelers 2020 season that opted out and what the projected match ups look like barring injury or further high-risk opt outs.
Week 2 vs Broncos:
Right Tackle – Ja’Wuan James
For the second week in a row, the Steelers formidable defensive front will face off against an opt-out-effected offensive line. Ja’Wuan James, who landed a sizable deal last offseason making him the highest paid right tackle, was expected to immediately upgrade the Broncos offensive line. Unfortunately, James fell to injury early in the season which thrust Elijah Wilkinson into starting action. The same outcome is playing out this year with Wilkinson getting the nod at right tackle while the recently signed veteran Demar Dotson backs him up. Wilkinson was viewed as the weak link on the Broncos offensive line last year. For what its worth, Ja’Wuan James earned a 72.4 from PFF, whereas Wilkinson earned just a 59.6.
On the other side, former first round pick Garett Bolles will start at left tackle where he has largely disappointed, so much so that the Broncos recently declined his 5th year option. All that being said, this same offensive line graded out fairly well in 2019. Look no further than former Steelers offensive line coach, Mike Munchak. If anyone can craft a formidable unit despite the faulty parts, its Munchak.
T.J. Watt will be the main benefactor in this situation with the opt out for the second week in a row. Watt will have every opportunity to start the 2020 season with a bang with two favorable match-ups to kickoff the year.
T.J. Watt vs. Elijah Wilkinson