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: TE Vance McDonald
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Vance McDonald put forth his best effort of the season so far, and perhaps his best since 2018, in the Steelers’ win over the Houston Texans.
With Pittsburgh running a four-man rotation at wide receiver and bringing in a new primary receiving threat at tight end in Eric Ebron, it’s not likely that he is going to be setting any new career-high numbers this year, but give credit to Vance McDonald, who upon initial impression appeared to have his best game since perhaps his breakout 2018 showing.
While he only caught three passes for 35 yards, they were meaningful, particularly his third and final reception, a 14-yard gain on third and two on what proved to be the game-winning drive in the middle of the fourth quarter. They lined up in a heavy set with a tackle-eligible, and Ben Roethlisberger found him on a short passes, using his size and strength to fight for extra yardage. He did the same on a 15-yard reception earlier in the second quarter.
What was more inviting to me was watching his run-blocking, however, and area in which he had been on the decline since his first season here. His presence was felt on a number of the Steelers’ key runs on the day, though he wasn’t on the field on Anthony McFarland’s 20-yard draw. He did help open up the running lane on a power pull for James Conner’s 25-yard run to begin their close-out drive.
The Steelers are still at a point at which they feel that they prefer to use an extra lineman as a run blocker. With Zach Banner on injured reserve and Chukwuma Okorafor now starting, they have turned back to Jerald Hawkins.
If they can get McDonald going again as both a receiving and blocking threat and somebody that Roethlisberger can rely on to get out of tight spots, then that would really solidify the platoon of weapons that the offense has.