Ahh training camp. This is truly the time of year when football season begins to come to the forefront of the mind. Summer is still in in full swing, but as the warm weather dwindles, fans can look on the silver lining that with the end of summer comes the begging of the NFL season. Now is the time of year where fans get to brag to their friends about how well their favorite team is going to be. Or, if you’re of the glass half empty mindset, you can spin your tales of woe to your friends about how team has no vision and the fall of 2017 is going to be miserable.
For fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, these best and worst-case scenarios play out all the time in person and online. T.J. Watt is either going to be the terror and future Hall of Famer his big brother is, or he’s a wasted pick that was only selected because of his famous last name. Martavis Bryant is here to live up to his potential, or is a suspension waiting to happen again.
The truth is, there’s a better than average chance that some players will reach their potential, and some players simply won’t have things go their way in 2017. I broke down the best and worst-case scenario for every position group. I tried to ignore injuries as a worst case as applicable because that’s obviously the worst case. Without further ado, let’s dig into the offense.
Best Case: The best case for the quarterbacks is that Ben Roethlisberger plays a full 16 games and doesn’t suffer any serious injuries that causes him to miss a game. I know I said I wouldn’t bring up injuries, but Roethlisberger is the Steelers most important player and is coming off a year where he dealt with leg injuries once again. A healthy Roethlisberger could potentially set a career high in touchdown passes with the talent around him. Roethlisberger gets over his well-documented struggles on the road that cropped up in 2016. His primary backup, Landry Jones, hasn’t done a lot to inspire confidence in the Steelers faithful, but he is capable of pulling out a win with some help from his defense. Hopefully the Steelers have the division wrapped up heading into week 16 and Roethlisberger could sit out and give the team a chance to get Jones or Dobbs some gave reps.
Worst Case: The years of hits and his flirtation with retirement take their toll on Roethlisberger and he begins to break down both mentally and physically. Roethlisberger’s fluky play continues and he struggles mightily on the road again. Jones and Dobbs aren’t able to pick up the slack if forced to fill in for Roethlisberger in a critical game or for an extended period of time.
Knile Davis/Fitzgerald Toussaint
Best Case: Bell takes the Steelers franchise tag and bets on himself to prove his worth to the franchise. Bad feelings are put aside and Bell has fun playing football with his teammates as he dominates the league again. Bell flirts with 2,000 overall yards. The Steelers up their contract offer to Bell after he plays a full season with the team. James Conner proves he’s more than a feel-good story and provides the Steelers with around 500 yards and three touchdowns in relief of Bell. Davis or Toussaint handle return duties and serve as a stand in should Conner struggle to adjust to NFL life. Roosevelt Nix continues to be a solid special team’s contributor and run blocker. Nix scores his first touchdown this year.
Worst Case: Bell is legitimately angry at the Steelers and brings a cool attitude to camp that rubs his teammates the wrong way. As Jeff pointed out on a recent podcast, Bell has suffered season ending lower body injuries in the last three seasons. For a running back, a position with a short shelf life to begin with, that’s not ideal. Perhaps Bell begins to breakdown this year. Conner struggles to adapt to the NFL game and loses reps as the season goes on to veterans like Davis and Toussaint.
Best Case: Antonio Brown is able to build on his 2016 season to have the best receiving stats in the league in 2017. This includes a possible 2,000 receiving yards. The reason for Browns success is the talented cast of characters around him commanding the respect of opposing defenses, preventing them from focusing on brown. Bryant’s year away from the game has rekindles his love of football and he finally puts all his skills together for a complete year. Bryant has a 1,000-yard season and leads the team in touchdowns. Rogers and Roethlisberger find good chemistry toward the end of 2016. In 2017, they build off that chemistry and Rogers becomes a safety valve for Roethlisberger. Smith-Schuster puts up similar numbers as Rogers did last year, and shows improvement over the course of the year. Coates beats out Heyward-Bey for a roster spot. His hand injuries have healed and he’s able to cut down on the drops. He and Bryant use their speed to torture defense. Ayers makes the team as a return man and special teams player.
Worst Case: Brown calling out Bell on social media isn’t just motivation, they legitimately have a problem with each other and they become a distraction in the locker room. Bryant also brings a poor attitude and rumors of a conflict with Roethlisberger boil over. His conditioning proves to be inadequate for a full NFL season and he struggles as the year goes on. By removing the Heyward-Bey from the roster the Steelers have lack of leadership. It shows as the young receiving core has focus and discipline problems during the year.
Offensive Line/Tight End
Best Case: The Steelers have the best offensive line the league, leading to another pro bowl selection for Pouncey and DeCastro. Villanueva signs his franchise tender and relatively quickly and uses this season to earn himself a new deal. The unit as a whole keeps Roethlisberger upright and limits the his to the signal caller. Grimble and James are able to provide Roethlisberger with easy targets over the middle and become certified weapons in the red zone due to their size. Grimble improves his blocking enough to play more two tight end sets. Johnson holds on to the blocking tight end role.
Worst Case: Villanueva suffers a setback in play, making the left tackle spot an issue for the Steelers. The line isn’t able to keep pass rushers away, and a heavy hit total leads Roethlisberger to more seriously consider retirement this offseason. The Steelers tight ends fail to play at even a league average level in terms of pass production. Their impact in the red zone is negligible.