Now that training camp is over with the Pittsburgh Steelers back in Pittsburgh and gearing up for what they hope will be a much more productive season, it’s time to take stock of where the team stands. Specifically, where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of training camp and the preseason and the regular season as it plays out. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning for each one. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: G James Daniels
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: The veteran free agent acquisition has been coming into his own over the course of the first three weeks of the season with the Steelers, now beginning to look the part he was brought in to play after signing a three-year, $26.5 million contract, coming off of his most consistent game thus far.
Remember all the hand-wringing there was a month ago about James Daniels? Reports about his integration into the Steelers’ offensive line on a performance basis were discouraging, with a number of different beat writers suggesting that he wasn’t looking the part. He didn’t have a good preseason, either.
But practices don’t count, and neither do preseason games. Since the regular season has begun, Daniels has played well, and I make no caveats in that statement. While his pass protection has been stronger than his run blocking—as was his scouting report, and is rather common throughout the league—he is giving the Steelers their money’s worth thus far.
Really, on the whole, the offensive line has been alright. Mason Cole has been solid at center and is perhaps their best run blocker, while Kevin Dotson is rounding into form as well. Chukwuma Okorafor is quietly continuing to be a trustworthy pass protector. Dan Moore Jr. remains the biggest question mark, but he hasn’t been the disaster that he had been during the preseason.
One hopes that this trend continues in the current trajectory for the group as a whole, as they better familiarize themselves with Pat Meyer’s blocking schemes and how they fit into the offense—and as they figure out where the hell Mitch Trubisky is going to be as he keeps rolling out of the pocket unnecessarily.
Bottom line, Daniels has been the best of the bunch so far, and that’s good news because he was supposed to be. And he hasn’t been just the Steelers’ best lineman. He has been genuinely good, and getting better, more comfortable, more consistent. But that needs to continue, especially in the run department (take it for what it’s worth, but he’s the highest-graded guard in the league by Pro Football Focus in pass protection), because at this rate, this is going to have to be a run-first team.