The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is in the conversation as one of, if not the most explosive and dangerous offense in the NFL, when healthy. There have fantastic play-makers at every skill position, but what can be said about the men who provide depth at each of these positions? What happens when the first, and even second string player, goes down? Here's a breakdown of how the depth chart would pan out if the season started today, and what could happen if the injury bug strikes again.
Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones are Ben Roethlisberger's backups. Last season showed exactly how dismal the situation can become when both the starter and his backup are injured. Gradkowski is a serviceable, smart backup quarterback. He can help this team win a few games if all the other pieces are in place. In 2015, with Gradkowski going down in the preseason, the front office brought in Mike Vick, who made a handful of plays but looked scared and unprepared most of the time. Thankfully, they have not brought him back. Landry Jones is probably going to be the third quarterback, and may not even get a helmet on game days. He showed a few flashes last season, and made some plays, but otherwise underwhelmed.
To say the situation was dire would be a massive understatement. Thankfully, Ben only missed a handful of games last season, but is it any better heading into 2016? Does Gradkowski have anything left? Has Jones improved enough to be counted on? I suppose we will find out in due time.
Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams have the first two spots locked down, and are both great when healthy. Behind Williams is Fitzgerald Touissant. Fitz made some plays as the starter in the 2015 playoffs, and seems to grasp the playbook and knows his role. He doesn't, however, inspire a glowing sense of confidence to carry the load for an entire season. Maybe a combination of Touissant with Roosevelt Nix thrown in for short yardage and goal line situations would create some success, but this is certainly not what Steelers fans hope for come game day. The only way the RB depth will be tested is if both Bell and Williams are hurt, again.
Holy question marks, Batman! Is Ladarius Green the heir apparent? Can he fill the void left by Heath Miller's retirement? What about Jesse James? Has he improved his blocking, route running and pass-catching enough to be a solid number two? Matt Spaeth and David Johnson are decent blockers in the run game, but what else can they bring to the table if Green is not available? Sure, they've both caught a few passes, but if they were consistent threats, wouldn't they be starters in Pittsburgh or elsewhere by now? To be frank, tight end might be the biggest question mark on the team's offensive skill position depth chart.
This is possibly the deepest group of skill players on the roster. Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton are the starters leading into camp, and Martavis Bryant is gone for the season. Behind AB and Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey has finally found his hands and still has great speed paired with plenty of experience. Sammie Coates has supposedly gotten himself into NFL shape and should be a tough matchup for opposing defensive backs, but, can Big Ben depend on these two for a long stretch should Brown and Wheaton catch the injury bug this year? Who's behind them? That can't be answered until late August.
The bottom line is this: there are starters and guys who are starters waiting in the wings. The backups are 2nd or 3rd string for a reason. It's not unheard of, but rarely does a backup, or minor role player, make as significant an impact on his offense as consistently as the guy he backs up. Sometimes magic does happen and this player develops into a stud on game day. NFL fans love a Cinderella story, but the fact remains that most of the time the story does not have the same happy ending fans hope for.
Do the Steelers have concerns about depth at the offensive skill positions? They sure do, at every position. The Steelers' concerns at this juncture are real. The team suffered through numerous injuries and suspensions that tested their depth in 2015. Some players acquitted themselves quite well, others not so much. At first blush, the offensive depth chart may look decent on paper. I'm not sure that translates to success on the field if that depth continues to get tested.