In what has felt like the longest offseason in the history of the NFL, there has been plenty of talk about various Steelers needing to step up their game for the 2020 season. There are a number of players on offense looking to have bounce-back years such as Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner, along with various defenders needing to keep up their excellent play from 2019 such as Minkah Fitzpatrick, T.J. Watt, and Joe Haden. And while just about every player has been scrutinized and evaluated in the six months since the Steelers have played a football game, some have not been discussed as much as others.
So who are the players many people aren’t discussing as in-depth as others whose play in 2020 could ultimately shape the success of the Steelers? Here are my top three suggestions to answer this question.
With so much focus of late being on the movement along the Steelers offensive line, the three starters who look to be holding down their same position from 2019 have not been discussed as much as others. With the two former first-round draft picks in Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro holding down their various positions, it is the former Pro Bowler Alejandro Villanueva at left tackle who could just as easily make a huge difference along the Steelers offensive line in 2020.
After back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons in 2017 and 2018, Villanueva had a somewhat debatable 2019 campaign. While some point out certain statistics to wear Big Al continued to hold down the fort well, others felt he was not living up to his previous standards. As the third-oldest player on the 2020 Steelers, Villanueva does not have the luxury of time as some other players to who are fighting for positions.
While some are highly speculative about the move of Matt Feiler to left guard at least for now, perhaps another strong interior offensive lineman playing next to Villanueva could help him in his 2020 campaign. And if big Al has a big year in the Steel City, Ben Roethlisberger will have a little extra time to find his young receivers and keep the Steelers offense on the field and rolling.
Speaking of Roethlisberger‘s young receivers, the third-year pro out of Oklahoma State is looking to build on his team-leading 735 yard performance in 2019. With all the talk of JuJu Smith Schuster getting healthy and back to his Pro Bowl level of 2018, along with the anticipation of the sophomore season of Diontae Johnson, Washington has quietly been more of an afterthought when it comes to the Steelers receiving corps. I know I have been just as guilty as others of not constantly mentioning Washington as part of the Steelers young weapons going into 2020.
With Smith-Schuster and Johnson already catching the eye of many around the NFL, and with the limited offseason work to get rookie Chase Claypool up to speed, Washington may be the key in the receivers room for the Steelers this coming season. If Washington can continue to produce, the options for Ben Roethlisberger are that much greater.
It must be nice to have Washington on your side.
While many Steelers fans want to constantly point out the liability Steelers linebacker Vince Williams presents in coverage, denying his ability to stop the run should not be overlooked. In the two games Williams missed last season due to injury, there was a noticeable difference in stopping the run. Returning to face the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5, Williams helped keep their running game in check whether directly or indirectly.
The biggest task when it comes to Vince Williams in 2020 is the Steelers ability to have him on the field in the right situations and not have him stuck in the wrong ones. As long as the Steelers defense allows Williams to play to his strengths, he has plenty to offer. Should he help to stabilize Pittsburgh’s run defense in 2020, it will just help the Steelers force more passing situations which gives a greater opportunity for the rest of the team in both sacks and interceptions.
So there are three players I feel who have not received a lot of coverage in the offseason who could greatly impact the Steelers for 2020. Do these players make sense to be placed in this category? Are there others you feel may have not had a lot of discussion time who are very key for the upcoming season? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.