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: Antoine Brooks Jr. will be the Steelers’ fifth defensive back to open the season.
Explanation: The Steelers are searching for Plan A when it comes to replacing Mike Hilton in the slot after his departure in free agency. Since getting on the field, Plan A seems to be second-year safety Antoine Brooks Jr. He has competition, and will have to earn it.
The Steelers have made it a pretty clear emphasis since OTAs started that they’re leaving no stone unturned when it comes to exploring their options in the slot. Given the search, it feels inevitable that they will find one—which means that it will keep Cameron Sutton on the outside, and James Pierre on the sideline.
And Brooks is the most likely answer. They want somebody with a well-rounded game the way Hilton did, and Brooks is very much in that mold. While he may lack something in coverage…frankly, so did his predecessor, so that’s not a disqualifying factor, really.
What he can bring to the table is physicality, run support, blitzing, and a high football intelligence. He may be a sixth-round pick, but he’s a guy the Steelers, and specifically Mike Tomlin, have been scouting for years, so they know what they’re asking him to do.
That is, they know what they think he can do, at least. They’ll find out a lot more during the preseason, and if his struggles against live opponents in coverage are too great, that’s going to pose a problem. And Tomlin has already made it clear that no job has been won, and other players are vying for the role.
Chief among them is Arthur Maulet, a veteran who has played a fair bit the past two seasons. He has been receiving positive press of late since camp opened, and I think will end up being the favorite. Experience is important in the slot, and he has it.
But we can’t discount the possibility of Pierre. The way he’s been talked about, it really seems like he is the Steelers’ fifth-best defensive back. If that’s the case, they need to get him on the field, even if it means pushing Sutton inside.