The Steelers have found a way to win every week this season. It hasn’t always been pretty, or even made much sense, but at the end of the game they have found a way to notch another tally in the win column. It was no different in week 8 against the Baltimore Ravens where a 10 point gap at halftime seemed insurmountable. Even still, an opportunistic defense complimented an offense that made just enough plays to win. At 7-0 with a multiple game lead in the AFC North, here are the players whose stock is on the move:
NT Tyson Alualu – Stock Up
Tyson Alualu is ending up on this list after getting injured with a reported MCL sprain of an unknown, but not “serious”, severity. The reason his stock is pointing up after an injury has to do with the performance of the run defense after he departed. Opponents are averaging just 1.9 yards per carry when Alualu is on the field for the Steelers. The Ravens had 5.64 yards per carry on Sunday. Yes, the Ravens have a potent rushing attack that is exaggerated by the fact they have the league’s best rusher at the quarterback position, but Alualu’s absence alone proves his value to this team.
When Javon Hargrave departed in the offseason, the nose tackle position was one that carried a fair amount of uncertainty, but Alualu quickly proved that to be false. Here is to hoping he is back for the week 12 Thanksgiving rematch against the Ravens.
OLB Ulysees Gilbert III – Stock Down
Ulysees Gilbert III had a lot of good press from coaches and players alike leading up to the 2020 season, but has failed to live up to the hype. He failed to suit up on multiple occasions at the beginning of the season, and after Devin Bush got hurt he wasn’t able to gain much share of the snap count. He registered just 14 snaps in week seven, as Robert Spillane strengthened his grip on the starting job. He was inactive in week eight due to a back injury, and following the game the Steelers made a move to sign inside linebacker Avery Williamson who Mike Tomlin has already called the backup to Vince Williams and Robert Spillane. Gilbert may find himself as a healthy scratch again once his back heals up.
OLB Alex Highsmith – Stock Up
Alex Highsmith has been a great find at the latter portion of the third round so far. Last week, I listed Ola Adeniyi’s stock on the decline which has paved the way for Alex Highsmith. Highsmith played only 8 snaps just a week ago in Tennessee, and over tripled his defensive snap count to 25, Adeniyi getting zero.
Highsmith was able to put his stamp on the week eight game against Baltimore with a key interception that turned the momentum in the second half. Along with the interception, he had eight tackles and allowed only one reception on four targets in coverage per Pro Football Focus. PFF also had him as the Steelers highest graded defender on the day with a 88.7 overall grade.
WR James Washington – Stock Down
James Washington only registered 10 snaps in a key week eight game against the Baltimore Ravens. He was outsnapped on offense by Ray-Ray McCloud. McCloud plays more in the slot and isn’t directly competing with James Washington for snaps, but a pecking order is starting to work itself out among the Steelers wide receivers and James Washington’s role is shrinking.
When asked about this, Mike Tomlin told the media that his lack of snaps may have been due to the preferred matchups the Steelers wanted to have, though he also noted there weren’t many snaps to go around as the Ravens ran a lopsided amount of plays on offense compared to the Steelers. Washington was targeted only once failing to haul it in.
WR Juju Smith-Schuster – Stock Up
Juju Smith Schuster has not had the season that many perhaps thought he would after reuniting with Ben Roethlisberger, but he is a steady presence who has made key plays in key moments. On the Steelers go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, Juju caught four passes for eleven yards including a key 3rd and 1 just outside of field goal range to keep the drive going. He isn’t scared to catch contested passes in the middle of the field and fight for the extra yards through contact.
So, who is the Steelers number one wide receiver? Any given week that seems to change, but Juju is the veteran presence with high football IQ and a lot of heart, akin to Hines Ward’s days in Pittsburgh.
RB Jaylen Samuels – Stock Down
Jaylen Samuels doesn’t have a large role to begin with, but his current niche is as the receiving back. When he gets the opportunity, he must make the most of them, and he has failed to do so in 2020. He has as many drops (2) as receptions this season and has only seven yards after the catch. One of those drops was on 2nd and 3 that otherwise would have gone for a fresh set of downs and given the Steelers some much needed breathing room backed up on their own end, instead they punted.
He provides some value with his versatility being able to line up as a wide receiver in the slot and being used in pre-snap motion, but his production has not warranted any further playing time.