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: T Jerald Hawkins
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Since signing him after the season opener, the Steelers have already begun to use Jerald Hawkins in the tackle-eligible role, which he previously played in 2017, and which he figures to continue to do for the remainder of the season.
I believe the Steelers use extra linemen more than any other team in the league. That was especially the case in 2019 when Zach Banner played over 200 snaps in that role. After he moved into the starting lineup, they used Chukwuma Okorafor there, which he also did as a rookie in 2018. Now with Okorafor starting, Hawkins has returned, and is back to the role he served in 2017, his second year in the league.
A 2016 fourth-round draft pick, Hawkins has not had good health luck in his career, and has missed two seasons due to injury, from which he was slow to recover in the most recent incident. Suddenly awash with talent at tackle, they traded him last year, but now they got him back.
And they’ve plugged him in right back where he was the last time he was on the field for the Steelers—which was admittedly some time ago at this point. But both offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and head coach Mike Tomlin have praised him for his ability to jump right back into the mix, and the latter in particular stressed that his return gives the offense some of the versatility that they seek in the tight end role.
The Steelers have used the tackle-eligible more recently when they have felt as though they don’t have a strong third tight end, or without confidence in the blocking ability of one of their top two. With Eric Ebron as their number one tight end now, it’s no surprise that we continue to see the extra lineman with a featured role in the offense.