Welcome to Behind the Steel Curtain’s Question of the Week. The show where we ask the writers of Behind the Steel curtain a question, and they answer!
This week’s question is: “What player on the Steelers do you think is primed for a breakout season?”
Check out the responses, vote for the answer you like best, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Shannon White: My pick for the Steelers Breakout Player this season is Ulysees Gilbert lll, so much so I have a article that will be dropping soon singing his praises. My opinion of the young man is hardly a secret. I was stoked when the Steelers selected him in the sixth round of last year's NFL Draft, believing he was a steal at that draft position and therefore a great value.
I initially thought that Gilbert was the perfect backup for young, ascending future star Devin Bush, but I am starting to believe that Gilbert is capable of much more. By all accounts, Gilbert has been a early standout at camp this year, which really isn't that much of a surprise considering his excellent training camp and preseason last year.
Gilbert is in line to receive the majority of the snaps in pass coverage and sub packages that went to the departed Mark Barron last season. I believe that Gilbert is at least on par in coverage with the veteran Barron already, and he should be an upgrade against the run.
Gilbert's minutes are definitely going to increase on defense, leading to an increase in opportunities to make plays. I believe that Gilbert will rise to the occasion.
Anthony Defeo: I’m going to go against the grain and pick Chukwuma Okorafor. Zach Banner might be getting all the publicity early on at Steelers training camp, but I think Okorafor, a third-year product out Western Michigan, is poised to make a huge leap in 2020. He started one game at the right tackle spot in 2019, and I predict he will start another 16 in 2020 after beating out Banner in the highly-anticipated camp battle.
Michael Beck: I’m going to go with my Canadian brethren, Chase Claypool. I can't remember a time that a rookie has gotten so much praise in training camp before let alone a second round pick. Claypool brings an element to this team that hasn't been seen since Martavis Bryant and Plaxico Burress before him, except Claypool has zero character concerns.
A matchup nightmare that will give defensive co-ordinators fits, do you line up your number one corner on him freeing up the crisp route runner, Diontae Johnson or JuJu Smith-Schuster. Do you play him against your biggest safety to just by burned by is 4.42 40 time, or what about your speedy corner that he will just straight up jump over? The kid has all the tools to break out, the only factor weighing against him is how fast can he acclimate with Ben Roethlisberger?
Bryan Anthony Davis: As much as I want James Conner to excel (which he would should he stay healthy), I see Benny Snell Jr. becoming the lead rusher of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last season, Snell averaged 3.9 yards per carry and 424 yards on the ground. The lead back was Conner with an average of 4.0 ypc and 464 yards on eight more carries. The return of Ben Roethlisberger brings much needed balance to the force and Benny Snell Football can greatly benefit from him. Last season, defenses did not respect the Steeler passing attack minus Ben Roethlisberger. The incumbent, Conner, has the unfortunate potential for injury and BSJ is the heir apparent of Next Man Up. With a hopefully revitalized line and more reps, No. 24 could reach great heights in 2020.
Flip Fisher: Terrell Edmunds is my choice for the breakout player. The problem is will Steeler Nation notice unless he puts up big turnover numbers? Mike Mitchell rarely got credit and Bud Dupree was underrated due to his lack of sack success. All three have been glossed over because fans want to see splash plays, not their solid abilities in stopping the run. Unfortunately, too many fans bypass Edmunds run stopping ability and refer to him as a bust after just two seasons. In 2020, this will be the year that he lives up to his first round pedigree in the coverage game but without a half a dozen turnovers will he still be overshadowed by other players making splashes?
K.T. Smith: I feel like I got to the party late and there’s only half-eaten pizza and warm beer left. As Ian Hunter sang, all of the good ones are taken.
I like many of the choices above. I am especially hopeful for Edmunds as he enters a second year with an elite playing partner who seems destined to help him improve.
For the sake of adding a new name to the conversation, however, I’m going to say rookie running back Anthony McFarland. McFarland won’t have big numbers because the bulk of the carries will go to Conner and to Snell. But he has electrifying speed and is the type of guy Matt Canada has made a living devising creative schemes for. I don’t expect McFarland to be a consistent contributor but I think he’ll leave us with three or four splash plays that will make us go, “Wow.”
Geoffrey Benedict: This is the season that Devlin Hodges finally rises up, dethrones Ben Roethlisberger and leads the Steelers to the Super Bowl!!
Just kidding. My choice for the 2020 Steelers breakout player is Alex Highsmith. The rookie edge rusher is already built like an NFL defensive end, and he possesses the two things any rookie needs to succeed, a quick learning curve and a fierce work ethic. Many college edge rushers take a year to learn the game well enough to get on the field, others take a year for the team to get them into NFL shape. Alex Highsmith is ahead of the curve.
While I do expect a slow start due to the short off-season, I am predicting Alex Highsmith to finish the season as a serious part of the edge rotation, and to end up with more sacks as a rookie than Lamarr Woodley or Bud Dupree did (both had 4).
Dave Schofield: I’ll be the first one to officially do a repeat since BAD did not do it justice (after seeing my choice, he went back and added a lot of stuff). I see Benny Snell Jr. taking a big leap this coming season. I think he’s going to be the guy they turn to in the second half to wear down the team once Ben Roethlisberger has a lead. As displayed in Geoffrey Benedict's film room on Thursday, Snell just gets his helmet right up into his blockers and finds the spot where the defense isn’t and falls forward to get the yards. If slimming down is going to allow him to also be effective on outside runs, look out.
Jeff Hartman: All of the aforementioned players are all capable picks for breakout player in 2020, and I am going to try to find a player who wasn’t listed above. I’ll go with James Washington, and the reason for this us two-fold. First, the return of Ben Roethlisberger will only add to the football being spread among the multitude of weapons the Steelers’ have on offense. Washington should see his share of single coverage, and he has proven he can win those matchups. Second, is the fact Washington has steadily improved his game, and I feel he is due for another step forward. Will Washington have 1,000 yards receiving? Probably not. But if he has 800 with 9 touchdowns most would consider that a huge win for the offense. Juju Smith-Schuster, Dionate Johnson, Chase Claypool, Ryan Switzer, Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald will all get their touches, but it might just be Washington who shines brightest in 2020.
Who gave the best answer?
This poll is closed
Ulysees Gilbert III - Shannon White
Chukwuma Okorafor - Anthony Defeo
Chase Claypool - Michael Beck
Benny Snell - Bryan Anthony Davis
Terrell Edmunds - Flip Fisher
Anthony McFarland - K.T. Smith
Alex Highsmith - Geoffrey Benedict
Benny Snell Jr. - Dave Schofield
James Washington - Jeff Hartman