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: Cameron Sutton will be the team’s slot defender in 2021.
Explanation: While he is one of the Steelers’ top two cornerbacks, and figures to be in all packages featuring two, it’s not clear that the team’s third-best cornerback will be suited to playing in the slot. If that is not the case, Sutton may slide inside in the nickel and dime packages.
Justin Layne and James Pierre are the guys who will be getting the first crack at being the number five defensive back this year. The coaching staff and general manager Kevin Colbert have been talking about them throughout the offseason, about how this is the key year for them to step up.
It’s not as though they made any big moves at the position. They didn’t draft any defensive backs prior to the seventh round. They signed a couple of rookie free agents and added a veteran defensive back who can play in the slot, but is coming in with no guarantees.
Everybody is down on Layne, many already holding the position that he is irredeemable, but he is still young and relatively inexperienced. He’s only about six or so years removed from first taking the field as a defender, and remember, the offseason was chaotic last year, and highly abbreviated, stunting development opportunities. The latter point also applies for Pierre.
It was fine for the Steelers to throw in these young guys last year when they had to due to injury. They weren’t dependent upon them in the long term. Layne played a bit when there were injuries. We’re talking about a situation where he’s going to be logging 650 or so snaps a year.
They need somebody with more experience. This season is too important to play by trial and error, and Arthur Maulet is a capable defender who could handle the task of manning the slot. And if we’re throwing names into the mix regardless of experience, then don’t discount one of the young rookies like Shakur Brown being able to make an immediate impact in the slot.