When you look at an NFL roster, one of the areas you should keep an eye on is young talent. Having a quarterback on his rookie deal, and costing less, could be a team’s guide to immediate success.
However, having major contributions from any player who is young is a huge boost for the team. Not only for the salary cap savings, but for having a player who entered the league already developed enough to actually contribute in a big way.
Recently, ESPN did their NFL Power Rankings based on players who are 25-and-under. Some of the teams on this list are well known, while others might raise some eyebrows. For instance, when many people think of the Steelers, few think of young players. Most people think of an offensive line getting long in the tooth, and an aging Ben Roethlisberger.
However, according to ESPN, the Steelers find themselves in the middle of the Top 10 according to those parameters.
Check out the Top 10:
2019 ranking: 8
Blue-chip players: Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS; Devin Bush, ILB; JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR
Notable graduated players: T.J. Watt, OLB; James Conner, RB; Mason Rudolph, QB
Lost in an anemic offense without normal quarterback starter Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ defense matured into a top-three unit against both the run and the pass despite key members being under 25 and inexperienced. Star pass-rusher T.J. Watt missed the cutoff for these rankings, but 2019 first-rounder Devin Bush started 15 games as a rookie, called the defensive plays from his middle linebacker position, and justified his three-down role with a 60% coverage success rate. If he can make just modest improvements to his 18.3% broken tackle rate, he’ll deserve Pro Bowl consideration.
With five interceptions and both an interception return and a fumble recovery return for a touchdown in 2019, in-season trade acquisition Minkah Fitzpatrick was at the center of the Steelers’ unsustainable turnover luck; they ended 19.0% of their opponents’ drives with a turnover, 1.7% more frequently than even the Patriots in second place. Still, there’s no doubt that Fitzpatrick is a blue-chip player and, at 23 years old and with three years left on his rookie contract, well worth the first-round pick the team traded for him. The Steelers’ own 2018 first-round safety, Terrell Edmunds has been less productive in his two seasons. But he did offer impressive totals of 41 run stops and 15 run defeats to counterbalance an uninspiring 46% coverage success rate. With Fitzpatrick behind him, Edmunds should be able to play as a de facto linebacker with confidence.
After standout rookie and sophomore seasons, JuJu Smith-Schuster can have a pass for a down 2019 season with dreadful quarterback play. Incredibly, he’s still just 23 years old. Meanwhile, even without Roethlisberger, the Steelers continued to develop a reputation as wide receiver university. James Washington authored an efficient sophomore season with an 11.2% DVOA despite seeing just 10 of his 25 deep targets be catchable. One would figure those deep passes should be his specialty given his speed; his 21.25 mph top speed was the fastest at the 2018 Senior Bowl. Diontae Johnson led the team with 92 targets and 59 receptions in his rookie season. And second-round rookie Chase Claypool has the size at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds and physicality to round out a receiving corps with the necessary attributes to target any kind of defensive weakness. They even added a speedy, receiving-capable fourth-round running back in Anthony McFarland to complement the still-young power back Benny Snell if often-injured veteran James Conner is unable to withstand his presumed three-down workload in 2020.
What do you think of the Steelers’ ranking in these Power Rankings? Do you think they should be higher? We all know these mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, but they are good for quality discussion and debate. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.