Now that the 2020 regular season has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: DL Isaiah Buggs
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: It was not immediately obvious heading into the season what sort of role Isaiah Buggs would play this year. heading into training camp, it wasn’t even a shoe-in that he would get a gameday helmet. The team’s decision to let Daniel McCullers go and move him to the practice squad opened the door for his playing time, and he saw a career-high 17 snaps in the opener.
There are few things more ‘Steelers’ than drafting defensive linemen in the sixth and seventh rounds. Perhaps taking wide receivers on Day Two of the draft, or trying and failing to successfully draft cornerbacks. But Isaiah Buggs is the latest in a long line of late-round defensive linemen, and also one of the best—since frankly the track record isn’t necessarily great.
Carlos Davis is actually the latest to be drafted and make the team as a rookie, but he projects to spend his rookie season as a healthy scratch. Prior names include Joshua Frazier, L.T. Walton, McCullers, Nick Williams, Doug Worthington, Sonny Harris, and, as an undrafted free agent, Steve McLendon.
A product of Alabama, Buggs has better athleticism and hand usage than most of the players on the list above—perhaps all of them. The Steelers recognized this last year, and it’s one of the reasons that they drafted him. Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar having worked with him in college didn’t hurt, either.
Even though Butler confirmed on Thursday that they are still asking him to keep his weight down, Sunday’s game showed that they are also comfortable with him taking snaps at nose tackle, behind Tyson Alualu, which is not dissimilar to Walton’s role in 2016, when he temporarily surpassed McCullers as the top backup nose tackle.
The fact that he can play both end and nose tackle, and defensive tackle in their nickel and dime fronts, means there will be plenty of opportunity for Buggs to get playing time this year. Alualu and Chris Wormley are also end-capable, but the inside versatility of Buggs and Alualu has made this defensive line group more dynamic than they usually have had.