I have not made any bones about being a proponent of Pro Football Focus. I like their grading system (what little we know about their exact proprietary formulas) and their rankings. That being said, I do not always agree with their articles.
One of those articles in particular entitled, “Best-case scenarios for all 32 NFL teams at the 2020 NFL Draft” is one example. Below is their synapsis.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS – ADDING DEPTH ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Pittsburgh doesn’t have many holes to plug on their roster, nor do they have much draft capital in 2019 — they don’t pick until 49th overall, then they don’t pick again until 102. What they should do, though, is add some depth along the interior of their offensive line. With B.J. Finney leaving for Seattle, they are left without a reliable backup option in the event of an injury, assuming Stefen Wisniewski starts at left guard and Matt Feiler stays at right tackle. Not to mention, Maurkice Pouncey is coming off the lowest-graded season of his career and isn’t getting any younger.
The first sentence frustrates me out of the gate — declaring that the team does not have many holes on the roster. If they had said “not many starting positions have holes” I would have jumped on their bandwagon but that is not the case. PFF said roster which not only includes starters but also their direct backups. Do they have a valid case pointing out the need for an interior lineman? Sure. Left guard Ramon Foster up and retired at the age of 34 and his penciled in replacement, Stefen Wisniewski, is 31 and started 25 games in the past four years. PFF points out that Pouncey is coming off the worst year of his career but they fail to point out David DeCastro and Alejandro Villanueva are also coming off years that rival their wost career years. Does PFF not clamor for the Steelers to use their second-round pick because of a couple of players who combined for under 300 snaps in 2019? What about other positions?
Does PFF gloss over the running back position because running back James Conner is one year removed from a Pro Bowl nomination and the two backs behind him have starting experience? Was the running back position inept last season due to Conner not staying healthy, poor overall talent, bad quarterback play, or an inept run-blocking offensive line?
Could 2020 be yet another season the team pulls the trigger on another wideout early in the draft? In 2019, fans had a tough time gauging what the corps really entails. JuJu Smith-Schuster took a huge step back when the team needed him to step up the most. James Washington showed flashes but still is not living up to his second-round pedigree. Diontae Johnson was arguably the most consistent wideout last season but what is his ceiling and role with the team going forward?
What about the defensive side of the ball?
The vaunted 2019 Pittsburgh defense dragged an offense kicking and screaming to eight wins last season. But that was last season. With the departure of nose tackle Javon Hargrave left for greener pastures the Steelers acquired Chris Wormley from the Baltimore Ravens. At 297 pounds, is he a viable candidate to sniff the 680 snaps that Hargrave saw in 2019? Or will the team see a whole lot of Dan McCullers?
The other 10 starters on defense are penciled in but huge depth issues arise at nearly every position except for lineman Tyson Alualu. Besides Alualu and McCullers, only cornerback Cameron Sutton saw over 100 snaps on defense last season. The rest (besides 2019 third-rounder Justin Layne) is a smattering of low Pittsburgh draft picks, undrafted rookie free agents, cast-offs from other teams or defunct leagues.
PFF, Steelers fans, draftniks, and “experts” can lay a claim to a myriad of positions of “need” not only for 2020 but also beyond for the 49th overall selection. If PFF can make a claim for needing a backup in the middle of the offensive line, what about laying the groundwork for impending 2021 player departures? The team has nine starters and 11 backups who are not under contract past 2020 and none of them are interior offensive linemen.
For the next week, debates will rage on what position the team should draft, let alone who that player will be. Does the team draft for “need” in 2020 or anticipation of a player leaving after 2020?