Since 2014 the Pittsburgh Steelers have been slowly working their way towards a return to the Super Bowl. What started as a Wild Card berth was transformed into an AFC Championship appearance in 2016.
The Steelers, and their fan base, hope to take the next step and be the AFC representative in Super Bowl 52, but for this to happen there are several players who need to step up their game for this progression to take place.
There isn’t a ton of pressure on the second year nose tackle to perform well his sophomore season, but if he could continue on his upward trend with the return of Cam Heyward, the Steelers’ defensive line could be ridiculously athletic. Stephon Tuitt, Hargrave and Heyward would be the best defensive line in Pittsburgh since Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel took care of business on the defensive front. Hargrave could be the spark plug in the middle of the defensive line.
You can see a growing trend here with these second year defenders, but Sean Davis was a dynamic playmaker as a rookie, and will need to be even more dynamic in 2017. Alongside Mike Mitchell, Davis was incredible in both run support, as well as pass coverage, but there is room for improvement. As the season progressed, Davis was visibly more comfortable, and that was with an injured shoulder too. He is healthy now, and is ready to make his mark on the team.
The last of the Pirates rookie starters, Burns will have to be more sound next year. Yes, he got better as the season went on, but there were many occasions where he was fortunate the quarterback didn’t recognize just how out of position he was. Nonetheless, Burns does have the look of a shutdown corner, and that is exactly what the Steelers are hoping Burns develops into — starting in 2017.
Some might be shocked to see Big Ben on this list, but the truth of the matter remains — he can be better. It is a foregone conclusion Roethlisberger will throw some interceptions, but it is more about when he throws them. 2016 had entirely too many red zone turnovers, and with more weapons at his disposal he should be able to spread the ball around and improve his overall play in 2017. After all, Roethlisberger is the straw which stirs the Steelers’ drink.
An obvious selection for this list, it was painfully apparent how the Steelers struggled without a true No. 2 receiver in 2016, and this is exactly why Bryant is so important to the team’s offensive success next season. Defenses have to play the Steelers’ offense completely different with Bryant in the lineup. No longer can they double, and triple, team Antonio Brown, but have to respect another receiver on the other side. Throw in Bryant’s well-documented off field issues and he is a gigantic factor in the 2017 Steelers success.
I talk about all this, and more, in the above podcast. Give it a listen!