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: Second-year players will make or break the Steelers’ 2021 season.
Explanation: At least three second-year players, and at this point likely four, will play critical roles for the Steelers this season, with Chase Claypool at wide receiver, Alex Highsmith taking over for Bud Dupree, Kevin Dotson part of a new-look offensive line, and James Pierre and Antoine Brooks Jr. fighting for the nickel role.
These four roles can certainly make or break the Steelers’ season. Claypool can be the difference-making superstar on offense that can mask key flaws. Dotson has to be a home run on an offensive line trying to establish an identity. Highsmith is replacing a key piece of the team’s pass rush, the best in the league, so they can’t have a drop-off there. And the fifth defensive back role is the tipping point of the secondary that will determine just how good they are on the back end.
These are the four biggest unknowns on the team, the most variable spots, and in all four cases, it’s in the hands of a second-year guy. The 2020 class has the power to answer a lot of the questions the team is entering this season with
While they might be the biggest unknowns in terms of available data and history, the second-year class is certainly not the tipping point. If you really want to identify one particular story, let it be the dynamic between Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Canada, or the offensive line as a whole.
Yes, the Steelers lost some pieces on defense that they’ll need second-year guys to replace, but overall, they’re still set. What they don’t know is if they have a running game, or if they have a quarterback-coordinator pairing that can produce a dynamic passing game. Roethlisberger obviously has his limits at this point of his career, but Canada has to find a way to get the most out of him and put the offense in situations to succeed. And the offense has to give them the time and space in which to do that.