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: All seven rookies from last season (including the undrafted James Pierre) will make the initial 53-man roster this September.
Explanation: For the first time in what as far as I can tell was team history, the Steelers finished a season with every single draft pick from that year on the 53-man roster (though sixth-round safety Antoine Brooks began the year on the practice squad). It’s quite conceivable that all six draft picks, plus college free agent James Pierre, return to play in 2021 as well.
Well, most of it is mind-meltingly obvious. There is a very good chance that three of the Steelers’ top four draft choices from a year ago will be full-time, every-down starters in 2021, those being wide receiver Chase Claypool, outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, and guard Kevin Dotson. There isn’t even the slightest possibility beyond the completely unforeseen and obscure that any of those three are not on the roster.
As for running back Anthony McFarland, he is the offensive coordinator’s pet, having played for Matt Canada effectively at Maryland in 2018. James Conner is gone. Jaylen Samuels doesn’t need a roster spot, assuming they draft a back. That leaves Benny Snell, a rookie… and McFarland.
Carlos Davis ended up not just making the 53-man roster but moving up the depth chart last year, and there’s no reason to assume he won’t remain ahead of Isaiah Buggs this year. They may not need a defensive lineman to play special teams this year either.
James Pierre is, frankly, one of the Steelers’ top four cornerbacks, and he’s a plus special teams player as well, so he’s staying. The only real wildcard is Brooks, but he’s a guy the team is a fan of, and Sean Davis is gone. So, too, is Jordan Dangerfield, at least for now. The only other backup starter on the roster right now is practice squader John Battle, so… I’ll take those odds.
Given the virtually unprecedented nature of the Steelers having had all of their draft picks participate in a single season a year ago, it would probably be pushing luck thinking that they could duplicate it two years in a row.
The majority of players, yes, are basically safe. Anybody who thinks Claypool, Highsmith, or Dotson aren’t making this team is nuts. But I think you can argue that the others are something less than locks, with Pierre actually being the most secure.
It’s inevitable that the Steelers will draft a running back. Oh, and they like Samuels a lot more than you do, which is why he’s still here. The longer James Conner is out there, the likelier he is to return, as well. A draft pick at either safety or along the defensive line could knock Davis or Brooks to the practice squad. Henry Mondeaux, that aforementioned player, is a nose-capable player, and Buggs could take a sizeable step forward.
One only needs to look to players like Marcus Allen and Brian Allen as those who were initially on the 53-man roster, only to regress to the practice squad a year later. Even Dangerfield spent 2017 on the practice squad after making the 53-man roster the year before that.