The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will draft a punter in 2021.
Explanation: At least as far as personnel goes, the Steelers have had relative stability at punter for the past half-decade in the form of Jordan Berry, but they didn’t think enough of him to keep him on the roster at the start of last season. He found his way back only because his replacement struggled—a good indicator that they will be exploring alternatives going forward.
Nobody ever wants to use a draft pick on a specialist, but sometimes you need to to solve a problem, and the Steelers’ punting has been a problem. Consistency has been the biggest issue, particularly with the seemingly weekly shanked punt that flips field position the wrong way.
Berry has never been better than average at the height of his performance. There are some things that he does well. He’s generally good directionally, and typically can avoid touchbacks better than average, but he doesn’t have plus leg strength or hangtime, even factoring in the Steelers’ scheme for punts.
Mike Tomlin has already drafted a punter before, in fact, in the fourth round, with Daniel Sepulveda. They figure to have a couple of extra picks in the later rounds this year, one of which could and should be used on a punter to get this thing sorted out, because the carousel of veterans route never worked.
While there are obviously punters who do get drafted, it is still the case that the majority of punters, including the majority of the top-half performers, originally sign as college free agents. And plenty of punters who do get drafted end up being no better than the average undrafted punter.
Given the amount of holes the Steelers have on their roster this year, it wouldn’t be prudent to use one of their draft picks to try to address the position. If the worst-case scenario is another season with Berry, then that’s a risk worth taking, because as I said earlier, he is average. Not bad. Not horrible. Average.