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: OL Derwin Gray
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: For the first time in his entire career, Derwin Gray got into a game on Monday as part of a gameplan—even if due to injuries—rather than simply filling in at the end of a blowout.
The Steelers found themselves tasked with finding out a way to manage a game without not just starting left guard Matt Feiler, but also their top backup in Kevin Dotson, the rookie who started a couple of games earlier on in the season.
Both were injured in the same game against the Buffalo Bills. Feiler’s injury was serious enough to land him on the Reserve/Injured List, knocking him out for at least the rest of the regular season. Dotson’ was less serious, but he was unable to play against the Cincinnati Bengals.
J.C. Hassenauer was the only other interior lineman available for the Bills game after the first two went down, with Derwin Gray a healthy scratch. But with both out for Monday’s game, the Steelers played both players at guard. Hassenauer started, but Gray rotated in.
Ultimately, he only played 16 snaps in comparison to Hassenauer’s 49, a 3-to-1 ratio—but the fact that he was actually a part of a game plan at all is significant. A 2019 seventh-round pick, he spent his rookie season on the practice squad. He was there the first week of 2020, as well, but has been on the 53-man roster since week two after Zach Banner went down.
What does this mean for his future, if anything? Pittsburgh is going to lose some players along the offensive line via free agency—both Feiler and Banner are free agents, as is Alejandro Villanueva—so will they view him as one of the viable candidates to serve as valuable depth moving forward?
It’s not as though the Steelers are averse to devoting development time to linemen without pedigree—see Feiler and Villanueva, not to mention Hassenauer himself, all of whom were undrafted—so they’re not just going to overlook him. It sure would be great if he turns out to be a player.