As we move forward into the the full-fledged process that is the NFL offseason, we all know that the Steelers are not known for signing the cream of the crop unrestricted free agents on the market. So without further ado, here are 10 players that could present under-the-radar value to the Steelers roster in 2015.
Rahim Moore is the "other member" of the Broncos secondary, the only one not to make the Pro Bowl in 2014. The first thing you notice about this kid is his fight and drive. He almost lost his leg due to a condition called Lateral Compartment Syndrome, which is a fancy way of saying internal bleeding, but he bounced back to play a full season. Beyond that, he flourished playing in the deep safety spot, allowing T.J. Ward to freelance at strong safety. Signing Moore could allow Tomlin to switch Mike Mitchell to SS, which is where he flourished in Carolina. Perhaps Mitchell's true skill set could be unleashed as a downhill, thumping safety.
With Moore in the deep third playing ballhawk, and Shamarko Thomas playing a Tyrann Mathieu-type position on sub packages, the Steelers' secondary could transform quickly. You could even picture our secondary going more towards a Seattle Seahawks-style defense that shows Press-Zone, playing more towards the players' strengths as a group. The other key ingredient for how Rahim Moore fits in Pittsburgh would be defensive backs coach Carnell Lake. In case you didn't know, Lake was the secondary coach at UCLA when Moore intercepted 10 passes. Yes, 10! The only downfall of Moore is explosive tackling. He is a reliable tackler, but does not present himself as a real thumper.
Roy Helu Jr. - RB - Washington Redskins
Helu was one of my favorite running backs coming out of the 2011 Draft. He is a no-nonsense runner who also happens to be a tremendous pass catcher and pass protector, which is a real key point in our offense. Finding a RB who can be depended on to give Le'Veon a breather here or there is imperative, especially now that he's expected to be suspended for two games. He thrives in a one-cut, zone-blocking system where he can read his blocks, plant a foot, and explode through the opening. In terms of his pass protection, he has been ranked twice as a top 5 pass-protecting running back by Pro Football Focus.
Although he really improved this year, Skrine was heavily penalized both this year and in previous seasons - a result of his aggressive style of play. At the same time, he simply outplayed Justin Gilbert, a prospect of interest for the Steelers in last year's draft, to actually become a decent #2 corner opposite Joe Haden. The important attributes to remember about Skrine are his Speed (a 4.48 40 yard dash but was also timed in the 4.2 area), his versatility in being able to play the slot or outside, his excellent recovery speed, quick feet, and a great ability to see the ball coming and get pass deflections or interceptions (as evidenced by his 4 INTs and 18 PDs in 2014). Skrine is a very aggressive tackler who doesn't shy away from contact. The Steelers brought him in for a pre-draft visit in 2011, which is another reason to think they may give him a look.
What a fall from grace. Ayers was a rising star after his rookie year in 2011 and a breakout performance in 2012, both happening under his then-head coach Mike Munchak. Then, he fell out of favor with Ken Whisenhunt while also dealing with injuries to his knees. He was finally healthy last year, working hard until his prayers were answered by a trade to the Patriots. New England unleashed Ayers in situations where he could show off his versatile skill set, stepping in while edge rusher Chandler Jones was out. He possesses a tremendous amount of pass rushing ability. Able to rush from a stand-up OLB positon, as an ILB, or with his hand on the ground as a DE, let him loose and he can pressure the QB. He isn't just a one trick pony, either. Instead, he is a very adept LB in coverage, where he also can show off his hands for interceptions or pass deflections. He'll wrap-up tackle, but is also able to lay a big hit to let you know who he is. He could thrive as a Steelers OLB, but can ultimately fit into a 3-4 or 4-3 alignment.
Jabaal Sheard - DE/OLB - Cleveland Browns
Like Ayers, Sheard is another versatile player who knows how to rush a quarterback. He has played both as a 4-3 end and a 3-4 OLB, the one constant being his violent hand usage and non-stop motor - he simply never gives up on a play. Sheard is also adept at setting the edge in run defense, and was ranked as the 3rd best run-defending edge rusher in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. He also has some history with Pittsburgh, playing his college ball with the Pittsburgh Panthers and getting a 2011 pre-draft visit.
Ahtyba Rubin - DE/NT - Cleveland Browns
Rubin is a versatile, big-boned defensive lineman. An immovable object in the run game who hustles to the ball, he also was able to produce some results in the pass rush during his time in Cleveland. He was not as productive last year, suffering from an ankle injury that sapped some of the strength out of his base. His motor is evidenced by his two seasons of recording 80+ tackles. If this big of a guy gets that many tackles, he has to possess a prowess of not only holding the point, but also being able to disengage and make a play on the ball carrier. Being able to play both DE and NT, Rubin could add to the already solid Steelers defensive line.
Another draft pick from current Steelers offensive line coach Munchak, Klug is an undersized, but all-out max-effort type of player. His motor is always revving, and he shows a great amount of explosion and quickness in pass rush situations, being able to produce both sacks and quarterback pressures - as evidenced by his 7.5 sacks during his rookie season. Klug would only be a sub-package player for the Steelers, but could work well against the pass on third downs, which is where Pittsburgh has been lacking.
House could be a tough sign, considering that Green Bay may want him back to replace Tramon Williams. He is a big (6'1") press-zone corner, who loves to be physical in both coverage and tackling. House possesses large hands and can come up with the occasional interception. He is an ascending talent who had to overcome some injury problems with his shoulder, but was finally able to progress the last 2 years with 10 passes defensed each season.
Byron Stingily - G/T - Tennessee Titans
Stingily may also be a tough sign, considering he replaced Michael Oher once he was injured. Now that Oher is released, the Titans may want to resign him. Stingily was another pick by Munchak, who obviously liked what Stingily had to offer as a developmental prospect. He possesses good fluidity for a big man (6'5"), which was evidenced by his 4.86 40 yard dash time. But he isn't lacking power either, as he had 28 reps of 225lb at the combine, and he almost assuredly has grown stronger since. Stingily could represent a upgrade over Mike Adams.
Nate Washington - WR - Tennessee Titans
One of Ben's favorite targets before he left, Washington could return to provide a leadership presence alongside Antonio Brown. He still can be a productive player, taking advantage his height (6'1"), route-running ability, decent speed, and an uncanny ability to high-point balls and make contested catches. If everything works out, Washington could become reminiscent of Jerricho Cotchery in his veteran presence and ability to step on the field in a pinch. During his first stint with the Steelers, he was a favorite player of Mike Tomlin, who praised his work ethic and effort.
There aren't the Byron Maxwells or Ndamukong Suh's on the 2015 free agent market. But if the Steelers can come away with one of more of these underrated free agents, they can come out as winners in this year's free agency window.