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’ depth in the secondary is (or will be) fine — just unproven.
Explanation: Following the departures of Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Sean Davis, and Jordan Dangerfield, the Steelers’ depth in the secondary looks a lot thinner on paper — certainly more unproven. But unproven and untested doesn’t mean incapable.
Cameron Sutton is ready to be a starter, and it didn’t happen overnight. Some young players need time to develop, like Justin Layne and James Pierre, and this time they’ll have an actual offseason, which will only benefit them and find them better prepared to take the field — not to mention in-game reps in the preseason.
Layne and Pierre, I presume, will be the team’s first options to step up. Failing that, they have brought in a veteran in Arthur Maulet, who would be capable of playing any fifth defensive back role that would be required — inside, outside, safety, wherever he might be needed.
Add in the intriguing upside of young rookies like Shakur Brown, Mike Gilbert, and draft pick Tre Norwood, and you have a lot of options on the table. Get them some reps and you’re bound to find at least one contributor among them.
This is a conversation not about the unit as a whole, but specifically about the depth. That’s where they don’t have answers. Layne got on the field for over 100 snaps last year, but those came due to injury. Pierre ultimately played over him in the postseason. That could easily say as much about the former as it does the latter.
They brought in Maulet, but who exactly is he? The New York Jets had one of the worst passing defenses in the league last year. He has some experience, yes, but is he anything better than a replacement-level player? If he were, he probably wouldn’t have been available for the minimum. He’s graded below average by PFF in three of his four seasons. And even if somebody like Brown ends up being a player, it’s not going to be this year.