The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is now underway as they managed a come-from-behind victory against last year’s AFC runner up, the Buffalo Bills. The defense made a statement even though they lost Mike Hilton, Steven Nelson, and Bud Dupree in free agency and it would appear they will once again compete to be the top defense in football.
Meanwhile, the offense got off to a slow start as all of the new pieces began the process of becoming a cohesive unit.
These players have their stock on the move after week one:
TE Zach Gentry – Stock Up
With Pat Freiermuth joining the team and Eric Ebron already having a roster spot, it was unclear how much playing time Zach Gentry would see. There has been a blocking issue in the tight end room for a few seasons now, so any tight end that can provide a plus performance in blocking will see an increase in opportunities.
While Gentry saw the least snaps of the tight end room (16) it is clear that the team likes him in certain situations as they put him out there as the lone tight end on a couple very important plays. He even had a nice block to help spring Najee Harris to his longest run of the night in the fourth quarter. His lone reception of the night was an ugly looking tight end screen, but that is less on Gentry than it is on the play calling in that situation. It is worth noting that Gentry caught most of everything thrown his way in training camp.
Gentry ultimately finished with the Steelers’ third best offensive grade (71.9) from Pro Football Focus with strong grades in both run blocking and pass blocking.
CB Justin Layne – Stock Down
Justin Layne’s stock was already low after struggling late last season, but it has perhaps bottomed out as he suited up, but failed to register a snap on defense in week one.
Here are the players that registered snaps over Justin Layne (third year – third rounder):
-Tre Norwood (Rookie – seventh rounder)
-James Pierre (second year – undrafted)
-Arthur Maulet (fifth year – undrafted)
The defense played a ton of snaps (85) on Sunday and Layne did not get a single one. He did get amongst the most snaps on special teams, and figures to have a role there for now.
CB Tre Norwood – Stock Up
Tre Norwood was one of six Steelers rookies to see playing time in week one, and actually played the most snaps (68) of any rookie on the team in the first game. Prior to the start of the season, the Steelers planned on using a combination of Arthur Maulet and Antoine Brooks Jr. to cover the slot corner duties, but both players had injury setbacks and were released by the team. Maulet ultimately circled back, but even still Norwood out-snapped him in the slot 46 to 11.
This allowed Cam Sutton to stay outside nearly the whole game and was a big part of the Steelers keeping the Bills high powered offense in check. Norwood had his rookie mistakes and was burned badly by Emmanuel Sanders on a would-be overthrown touchdown, but he figures to have a large role in the defense moving forward. Not bad for a player drafted 245th overall. It certainly helps that Mike Tomlin gave him the early stamp of approval. This could change moving forward due to the integration of both Karl Joseph and Ahkello Witherspoon into the secondary.
OLB Melvin Ingram – Stock Up
Throughout the offseason, one of the biggest concerns for the Steelers was their depth at outside linebacker. Players like Anthony Chickillo and Ola Adeniyi provided decent depth for the last few years, but the depth was looking questionable for 2021. Fast forward to now, and the three-headed monster at outside linebacker of Ingram, T.J. Watt, and Alex Highsmith is perhaps the strongest unit on the entire team.
Melvin Ingram didn’t have much on the stat sheet that would suggest a great performance, but he popped off the screen routinely disrupting Josh Allen’s pocket with grown-man strength and veteran savvy. He did cause a holding penalty on a play that would have been a sack, and probably was held on no-calls on a couple of occasions. When asked about the rotation, Mike Tomlin essentially said all three players are varsity and will rotate throughout. Alex Highsmith may have got the official start, but Ingram out-snapped him 54-46.
OT Chukwuma Okorafor – Stock Down
Chuks Okorafor has spent the most time out of any current player as a lineman of the Steelers and is thus the veteran of the Steelers unit now. Entering a contract year and being the veteran of the unit, there is a natural elevation of play that you would expect to occur. Unfortunately, Chuks started the season off on the wrong foot allowing two pressures, including a big hit on Ben Roethlisberger. He was perhaps the worst lineman out on the field for the Steelers in week one, and that is as a part of a unit with two rookies.
To be fair, Chuks was preparing all offseason to be the left tackle, but it is not as if he has no experience playing on the right side as he did all season in 2020. It will be hard for him to turn it around next week going against the league leader in pressures (12), Maxx Crosby.
RB Benny Snell Jr. – Stock Down
Another 2019 draftee who got no snaps in the Week 1 game. To clarify, he did play plenty on special teams and provides some value there, but he received zero offensive snaps with Najee Harris gobbling up all 58. Snell is in the penultimate season of his rookie contract and with Anthony McFarland Jr. (short term IR) and Kalen Ballage in the mix, it is possible Snell sees his lowest snap total of his career in 2021.