The regular season marks the culmination of an extensive investigation into who your team will be that year. By this point, you’ve gone through free agency, the draft, training camp, and the preseason. You feel good in your decisions insofar as you can create clarity without having played meaningful games. But there are still plenty of uncertainties that remain, whether at the start of the regular season or the end, and new ones continually develop over time.
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: There will never be one settled ‘starting’ nickel back in 2021.
Explanation: Since the very beginning of the season, the Steelers have used a trio of players at different times in their nickel defense as the fifth defensive back. James Pierre, Tre Norwood, and Arthur Maulet all bring different attributes to the table, while nobody particularly stands out above the rest by such a margin as to force him into the full-time role.
While he’s not seeing as many snaps all over the field as he was in the first two games of the season, let’s also not forget that an unsettled nickel role opens things up for the Steelers to move Minkah Fitzpatrick around as well.
And really, who do you start at nickel? Pierre? Maulet? Norwood? All three can make a case as to why they both should and should not get the job, but this discussion wouldn’t even be possible were it not for the versatility of guys like Cameron Sutton.
Pierre is the name people are most excited about, but we’ve seen that he still has a lot to learn. He’s already been beaten deep a few times this season, for example. Norwood has had his strengths and weaknesses as well. Maulet may be the most consistent, but he’s also played the least, and in the most advantageous times.
It might not be clear now, but at some point over the course of the next several weeks, somebody will ultimately solidify the lineup. It could be Pierre as he grows with increased playing time and makes the necessary adjustments in his game. Maulet could prove that his veteran savvy ultimately wins the day, and they fall back on his experience, which has helped him make several splash plays. Or it could be Norwood, who is the most versatile of their options, and with perhaps the biggest upside.
The ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ works for now because they simply don’t know what they have yet, so their opponents certainly don’t. But as the season wears on, the novelty of their rotation will be replaced with game-planning, and at that point, it’s important to have your best player out there. Eventually, they’ll know who that is, even if they don’t right now.