After a surprising week one victory full of pleasant surprises, the script flipped as poor execution, missed opportunities, penalties, and injuries were too much for the Pittsburgh Steelers to overcome up against the Las Vegas Raiders. After getting the snap counts back and reviewing some of the tape, here are the players with their stock on the move:
TE PAT FREIERMUTH – STOCK UP
The Steelers asked Freiermuth to do more than in week one, and he handled the extra work well providing 4 catches on 4 targets for 36 yards. He continues to show off his sure hands which is a welcomed sight when the tight end position for the Steelers has been marred by drops for too long now.
He also showed more of the value he can provide in the blocking game, seeming to always make the key block on the few successful runs that the Steelers have. On Najee Harris’s biggest run of the game, Pat Freiermuth pulled from left to right and made the key block on the inside linebacker to give Najee a sizeable hole to get into the second level and pick up a much needed first down.
Hypothetically, if “Asset A” provides much more in the blocking game and is already a more reliable receiver than “Asset B”, then “Asset B” becomes expendable, which brings us to “Asset B”…
TE ERIC EBRON – STOCK DOWN
Meet “Asset B”, Eric Ebron. He was a former first round draft pick and has the size and athleticism to be a premier “move” tight end in the NFL. The only problem is, he can’t seem to catch the ball consistently. Too often over the last two seasons has Eric Ebron dropped key passes on possession downs to kill a drive. This past Sunday was no different as Ben Roethlisberger escaped pressure by using a pump fake that fooled the defensive tackle that was coming in free for the sack. Ben then shifted around and hit Eric Ebron in stride on an improvised route. The ball slipped right through Ebron’s hands which led to a punt on the opening drive.
This blunder was Ebron’s only target of the game on 24 offensive snaps. With no value added in the blocking game, Ebron is becoming a non-factor for the offense and Pat Freiermuth has already out-snapped him in the first two games of his NFL career. Either way, Ebron will be out of Pittsburgh after this year as his contract is set to void, but you just hoped he would provide some value in the meantime. Instead, he was the Steelers’ lowest graded offensive player by Pro Football Focus with an abysmal overall grade of 37.2.
NT ISAIAH BUGGS – STOCK UP
The Steelers always preach the “next man up” mentality to their players, and that is exactly what is necessary at the nose tackle position for the foreseeable future, and possibly for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, Tyson Alualu fractured his ankle and will be on IR for a long time, and with Carlos Davis also sidelined with an injury, Isaiah Buggs will be the starter for the time being.
Buggs registered 22 snaps in week two, but didn’t register a stat with zero tackles or pressures. Overall he played assignment sound football and didn’t make too many mistakes other than one missed tackle. Mike Tomlin told the media in his Tuesday presser that Buggs will have increased opportunity now, along with Carlos Davis when he returns. Henry Mondeaux was also called up from the practice squad to provide depth, but it appears that Buggs will get the first chance to become the starter. His stock isn’t on the move due to merit, but rather circumstance, so we will be looking closely at how he plays over the next couple weeks.
S MINKAH FITZPATRICK – STOCK DOWN
When half of the defensive starters get hurt in a game and you are one of the remaining star players still out there, you are expected to be the difference maker. Unfortunately, Minkah made the wrong kind of difference in week two as he gave up the nail-in-the-coffin touchdown to Henry Ruggs III. The success of that play took advantage of Minkah’s strengths as a player and two false steps towards Darren Waller meant a wide open Henry Ruggs for the score.
Minkah’s stock was already very high, so “stock down” doesn’t mean he won’t perform well throughout the season. However, for a player that presumably wants the Steelers to break their contract structure rules the same way they did with TJ Watt it just isn’t good enough. The team is asking him to do a whole lot in the defense as a chess piece, but he did not step up and stand out the way his lofty expectations would suggest. This was reflected by a league-low safety grade of 29.1 from PFF.
RB NAJEE HARRIS – STOCK UP
In today’s NFL you had better not draft a running back in the first round of the NFL draft unless they can be an every down workhorse back from the jump. Well, that is exactly what Najee Harris is providing to the Steelers as he has played 97.4% of the team’s offensive snaps thus far. Benny Snell Jr. has gotten the second most work and he only has three snaps.
While Harris hasn’t had much production over two games, much of that has had to do with blocking across the offensive line and abandoning the run in the play calling. Even still, he has created something out of nothing on multiple occasions, and he has shown flashes in the pass catching and blitz pickup game that is so crucial to a pass-first team. Mike Tomlin told the media in his Tuesday presser that Najee has gotten better with every passing quarter. It is only a matter of time until the young running back finds a rhythm.