For the regulars at this little Pittsburgh Steelers slice of the universe, they know I have been doing a Steelers Team Needs article, and update my list based on where the team seems to be focusing their attention leading up to the draft, and with free agency decisions which have been made.
The discussion in the comment section of these articles has been great, but what I can’t get over is how many people believe certain needs are more important than others. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I respect that, but I thought it was time to take a realistic look at the positions on the roster and whether the team has a hole in the roster or not.
Rather than writing a 2,500 word article for the entire team, I decided to break it up between offense, defense and special teams. Today we tackle the offense, so let’s look at where the team has holes to fill through free agency and/or the NFL Draft at each position. Reminder to readers not every position will have holes to fill.
Ben Roethlisberger still looks like he is capable of the 2-3 more seasons, and the depth behind him should be considered one of the best in the NFL. Before you laugh at the thought of Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs being the depth, not every NFL team has a depth chart with capable players behind their starting signal caller. The Chiefs’ and Patriots’ situation with Patrick Mahomes and then backup Jimmy Garoppolo is very unique, and the same can be said regarding the Packers and Aaron Rodgers taking over for Brett Favre.
With that said, the Steelers may address the quarterback position in the draft, but it would have to be the right player at the right time. Whether the team should take a player like Mason Rudolph in the first round if he is there at pick No. 28 is up for debate, but I wouldn’t consider quarterback to have a hole in the roster entering the 2018 season.
Verdict: No hole to fill (for this season).
Many would see a depth chart with Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster on it and think there isn’t a need, or a hole, to fill, but I disagree. Bryant is heading into his last year with the team, and with Eli Rogers not receiving a RFA tender the depth is an issue.
Although Darrius Heyward-Bey and several players who were given future contracts or spent time on the practice squad, look for the team to invest a mid-round draft pick, maybe as early as the 3rd round, on a wide receiver who can help round out the depth chart.
If the three starters stay healthy, the need diminishes, but if one of the top three receivers goes down the need is real for a backup plan.
Verdict: Hole which needs filled ASAP.
For all the offensive positions, this was probably the most difficult for me when doing my analysis. Vance McDonald, Jesse James and Xavier Grimble make a pretty solid trio. Not spectacular, but solid. McDonald is the wild card in this equation. When healthy, and throughout the second half of the season, he was a difference maker.
While watching an interview with him on Steelers.com, he spoke about how difficult it was to come into a completely different offense right before the season and having to essentially learn a new language. This makes me think an entire offseason to get comfortable will make a whole lot of difference for No. 89.
McDonald is a great two-way tight end, like Heath Miller before him, and Jesse James continues to develop in his own way. McDonald and James would make for great two tight end sets, but again it all comes down to health and the depth at the position. My feeling is if the Steelers spend a mid-round pick at wide receiver, the need for an athletic and spry tight end diminishes. However, the team could certainly add a tight end with those characteristics to play the slot and be a versatile weapon.
Verdict: No hole to fill, but improving the position is still possible.
Le’Veon Bell will be back this season, whether you like it or not, and James Conner and Fitzgerald Toussaint don’t instill that much confidence if something were to happen to No. 26. While Bell is in the fold, and I’m not holding my breath beyond the 2018-2019 season, the need to add a running back diminishes greatly. However, looking to the future is something which might need to happen sooner than later.
The Steelers are going to run the wheels off Bell this season, like they have since 2014, and I can’t blame them. He is an every down back, and the most versatile threat in the NFL, in my opinion. For that reason, I wouldn’t mind the team drafting a running back, but not until Day 2 or 3 considering Bell never leaves the field. This way, if Bell goes down with an injury you would have Conner and a rookie to help fill the gaps.
Verdict: No serious hole to fill as long as Bell is back, but adding depth is key.
With all 5 starting offensive linemen back for the 2018 season, most would say there are no holes to fill, but I disagree when it comes to depth. The loss of Chris Hubbard puts a ton of pressure on the development of Jerald Hawkins as the swing tackle, and Hubbard did more than just play tackle. He was also a reserve guard, and even the emergency center.
While B.J. Finney certainly helps from an interior offensive line depth standpoint, the team could add some more versatility to their line. Matt Feiler was retained, and the team clearly likes what he brings as a tackle, but the guard/center position is certainly one the team could benefit from adding to their roster.
Verdict: No hole to be filled other than depth at the position.