The time has come for the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers regular season to officially get underway. As the team prepares to play the Washington Redskins in the nation's capital, there is a long list of players for the black and gold who could be considered "impact" players.
What is an impact player? Someone who's performance could have an immediate correlation to the outcome of the game. There were quite a few to choose from, so I grouped a couple together. So, it isn't technically 5 players, but I figured you wouldn't mind the added information.
5 impact players to watch vs. the Redskins on Monday Night Football:
Sammie Coates / Darrius Heyward-Bey
With the absence of Martavis Bryant, and now Markus Wheaton, someone will have to step up and make plays across from Antonio Brown. Some might suggest Eli Rogers will be the guy, but in my opinion it will come down to Coates and Heyward-Bey. Look for Coates' size and strength to be an advantage, while Heyward-Bey still has the speed to take the top off of the defense.
Cameron Heyward / Javon Hargrave
Heyward and Hargrave are both coming off injuries, and their ability to put pressure on Kirk Cousins will be a large part of Pittsburgh's defensive game plan heading into this Week 1 showdown. Heyward has proven his worth on more than one occasion since entering the league, but Hargrave will look to take the next step in his progression as a rookie claiming a starting job on the team's defense.
There might not be a bigger 'X-Factor' on the Steelers than Shazier, and this has nothing to do with his health. Shazier has ridiculous speed for an inside linebacker, and just like the Amazing Spiderman, with this great power comes great responsibility. Shazier is the captain of the defense, from a play-calling standpoint, and he will have to be solid in every facet of his game for the defense to be running on all cylinders. Tackles for losses, passes defended and pressure on the quarterback. In other words, if we see the Shazier from Week 2 in 2015 against the 49ers, then the defense will be just fine.
While everyone talks about Wheaton's absence, no one is really talking about "The Outlaw". Jesse James has the skill set, and athleticism, to be a true threat in this Steelers offense. Yes, Ladarius Green was supposed to be an option at this juncture of the season, but James has always been a target the Steelers needed. James has shown he has the trust of Ben Roethlisberger, and that means a great deal in this offense. Look for James to have a big night if the team can pass protect well.
You thought I could go through this list like this and not at least mention Jarvis Jones? Ha. Think again. I didn't just mention Jones, but am highlighting him. Whether you like him or not, if Jones is able to get to the quarterback with even the slightest bit of consistency, this defense could turn from okay to pretty darn good. Jones has a lot to prove, and it all starts tonight on Monday Night Football. With the defense planning on rotating their outside linebackers, it will be up to Jones to send the message he is the starter, and allow James Harrison to play on obvious passing downs. That is a lot to prove, but all Steelers fans should be rooting for him to pull through, as it would only help the team succeed.