How the Sensabaugh, Davis, and Alualu signings affect the Steelers offseason plans

The Steelers free agency engine is running hot! Over the last few days the Steeler have signed three free agents: cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, running back Knile Davis, and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu.

The big lesson here is:

The Steelers use free agency to fill out the depth chart so they don’t have to reach for needs in the draft.

This was a known philosophy before that was reinforced by these moves and along with the signing of wide receiver Justin Hunter. The Steelers needed depth at all of these positions, and while none of the new players are necessarily difference-makers, what they bring is valuable depth.

Each player brings something different to the table and will have an impact on how the Steelers approach the offseason.

Coty Sensabaugh

Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, formerly of the Giants, Rams, and Titans, recently signed a two-year deal with the Steelers. It’s not surprising that the Steelers signed a depth cornerback, that was expected. What came as a surprise is that they gave him a two-year deal. What this means is that the Steelers may have Sensabaugh in their long-term plans.

While the Steelers will surely look to draft a cornerback (who will more than likely be a roster lock) the current depth can be projected as:

  1. Artie Burns
  2. Ross Cockrell
  3. William Gay
  4. Senquez Golson
  5. Coty Sensabaugh
  6. Al-Hajj Shabazz

The number of cornerbacks on the Steelers roster has ranged from four-to-six in recent years. With Shabazz likely the first cut, this leaves Gay and Golson fighting for the last spot unless the Steelers want to keep six. Sensabaugh is versatile and able to play as the nickel cornerback, the job Gay and Golson will both be fighting for in training camp. Gay’s age and Golson’s injury history are the obvious x-factors for this battle. Though Sensabaugh may not win a starting position, he could force one of these two players off of the roster.

Knile Davis

The Steelers brought in new blood at the running back position with Knile Davis. Some have predicted that Davis was brought in to replace DeAngelo Williams, but it seems more likely that he was brought in as competition for Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Davis bounced around NFL rosters near the end of the 2016 season and given that he lasted this long into free agency it’s clear he’s not a very coveted player. It’s safe to assume Davis will battle with Toussaint for the third running back spot while the Steelers address the backup position in the draft or by re-signing DeAngelo Williams. In other words, this signing shouldn’t prevent the Steelers from looking for another running back in the NFL draft.

Where Davis will likely make his money is on special teams. He has three kick returns for touchdowns in his four-year career. While this number doesn’t seem that big, it is more than previous kicker returners Fitzgerald Toussaint, Sammie Coates, and Dri Archer have had combined. If Davis were to win a roster spot over Toussaint (who is already familiar with the team and the playbook) he will have to show he can make a splash on special teams.

Tyson Alualu

The Steelers have broken their trend of signing former Chargers for defensive line depth. Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu comes from the Jacksonville Jaguars and will provide defensive line depth behind Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Javon Hargrave.

Like Sensabaugh, Alualu was signed to a two-year deal indicating that he is a part of the Steelers long-term plans. He brings valuable veteran depth and will play the same role previously occupied by Ricardo Mathews and Cam Thomas over the past few seasons. His signing potentially closes the door on Mathews returning to the team. While Mathews played admirably,

While Mathews played admirably, Alualu appears to be an upgrade.

With this signing, the Steelers won’t need to target a defensive tackle in the NFL draft. If a special talent falls they could take someone in the early to mid rounds, but Alualu’s presence means they don’t need to reach for a player and could afford to wait until the end of the draft if they want to select a defensive lineman.

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