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 1 vs. Giants:
Left Tackle – Nate Solder
Nate Solder opting out has a ripple effect throughout the Giants’ offensive line. Solder is a veteran who was slotted to hold down the left tackle position while the rookie 4th overall draft pick, Andrew Thomas, developed his skills at right tackle to eventually be the left tackle of the future. Because of this, Thomas will be thrust into action at the left tackle position in his rookie year which will also leave a competition for the right tackle position. This competition will be between veterans Cam Fleming and Nick Gates as well as 3rd round rookie, Matt Peart.
Currently, as listed on the Giants depth chart, both rookies are set to start. These rookies have quite a challenge waiting for them in week one with an edge rushing tandem that generated 26 sacks last season.
Bud Dupree vs. Andrew Thomas
T.J. Watt vs. Matt Peart
Cornerback – Sam Beal
This opt out became more important the day after the opt out deadline when another Giants cornerback, DeAndre Baker, was charged with four counts of robbery from a beach incident earlier in the offseason. The position was already thin in 2019 with the departure of Janoris Jenkins, but with Baker’s arrest and Beal’s opt out, the Giants are in an unenviable position in their secondary.
The 2019 version of the Giants secondary was rated as the 3rd worst in the league by PFF but they had hopes of turning it around with rookies getting meaningful game experience. These hopes are now gone, at least for the 2020 season, as their secondary will likely be towards the bottom of the league again.
Veteran free agent signing, James Bradberry, will start on one side of the defense while Corey Ballentine and Grant Haley compete for the other spot. It was thought that Beal had a pretty good chance of securing the starting position prior to opting out. Both Ballentine and Haley have two games of starting experience to their names with two passes defensed each. Ballentine, who is entering his second year, is currently listed as the starter on the depth chart. The Steelers have two young and talented receivers that will likely get reps against Ballentine in Week 1.
Diontae Johnson/James Washington vs. Corey Ballentine