The strongest position groups on the Steelers roster heading into the 2019 season | Steel City Underground

Steel City Underground

Pittsburgh Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
steelers.com

Many questions are being asked about where the Steelers roster has weaknesses. While I will address those concerns in a future article, I also felt it was important to show where they have their strengths.

The NFL offseason is all about improving your team to put the best product on the field. I believe the Steelers have that product and it’s because of a core group of stellar players in different position groups.

Here is where I feel the Steelers are stacked heading into the 2019 season.

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Quarterback

With Ben Roethlisberger, the all-time franchise leader in just about everything and a surefire first ballot Hall-of-Famer committing to an additional two seasons, how can this not be the strength of the team?

Everyone knows that quarterback is the most important position on the field, and with Big Ben locked in for three more years, the Steelers don’t have a lot to worry about – yet.

If for some reason Roethlisberger isn’t on the field, there’s a lot of promise in the future with two young quarterbacks developing to become his heir.

The first is last year’s backup, Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs led mixed-matched Steelers offenses to six scoring drives during the 2018 preseason. Those drives were nearly all from the default starting position of the Steelers 25-yard line, making Dobb’s leadership skills even more impressive.

He completed over 67% of his passes in exhibition games and while looking like a potential odd man out too. With incumbent veteran backup Landry Jones also looking sharp and the Steelers investing a pick in Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph in last year’s draft, Dobbs fought, and won, the backup spot behind Big Ben.

This season he will have to stave off Rudolph as I expect the team to have them compete for the number two spot. That should be fun, as Dobbs has flashed (with a laser beam audible pass to convert a first down against Baltimore) and banged (his rough three-and-outs, plus a pick against the Raiders). The preseason showing is just that: playing against the JVs.

The Steelers didn’t add Rudolph intending to not see what he’s made of: and I believe he could be the future.

That gives the Steelers two potential stop-gap backups in a league where teams are still searching for starters, or running with lowly veterans as their next option. That should give us all optimism that this is a position of potential strength for not only 2019 but other seasons yet to come.

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Defensive Line

Cameron Heyward. Stephon Tuitt. Javon Hargrave. Tyson Alualu. Daniel McCullers. Isaiah Buggs.

Holy hell this is an imposing group!

Years ago, the Steelers struggled without suitable help to rotate Heyward and/or Tuitt out of the game to keep them fresh. They also struggled when each of the aforementioned ended up on the sidelines with an injury.

Those concerns should be erased with two players, Hargrave and rookie Buggs, capable of shifting all over the line and providing their own pass rush to boot. Add former first round pick Alualu, a grizzly veteran who re-signed with the Steelers this offseason, and a much-improved McCullers to this list, and it may be the deepest position on the roster.

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Wide Receiver

I’m going to get some flack for this, but even with the departure of All-Pro Antonio Brown, this is still the group the Steelers have been known for over the years now. They are a wide receiver factory, producing several Pro Bowl talents this decade and the future looks as bright as ever.

JuJu Smith-Schuster has ascended to superstardom. He’s young and entering his third season.

James Washington looked like a combat catch machine in last year’s camp and practices, and had some rookie moments that should be erased with a year under his belt.

Two slot receivers return in Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer: they’re equally dangerous and can also complement one another too.

Add veteran WR Donte Moncrief with his speed and size, plus third round pick Diontae Johnson (an AB clone of sorts) to this group and look out.

With pass catchers available out of the backfield, as well as Vance McDonald at tight end, there are no decoys in the Steelers passing game as every single option must be respected. There was even a string where Switzer, considered to be the team’s WR4 in 2018, kept drives going because opposing defensive backs couldn’t stop getting penalized while guarding him.

Consider Ben Roethlisberger’s history with making lesser known names look like large talents and we could be in for some real fireworks as Randy Fichtner’s pass-oriented offense lights up scoreboards in 2019.

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Cornerback

Do I dare say the Steelers have the best cornerback group they’ve fielded in years?

Yes I do!

Joe Haden is the defacto number one, shutdown corner, but he’s now complimented by a “1A” in free agent addition Steven Nelson.

Mike Hilton returns in the slot as a Pro Bowl capable player.

Back that trio up with Cameron Sutton (who can play outside or in the nickel), third round pick Justin Layne, and yes, even former first rounder Artie Burns (imagine if he bounces back?) and the Steelers are more than set at this position that has hampered their defense for ages.

I’ll even go one further and plant a seed of Brian Allen progressing or AAF stud Kameron Kelly spoiling the party too.

There’s plenty to love about the Steelers secondary in 2019 as they load up their side of the arms race to combat the other passing games they’ll face in the AFC. (I’m looking at you New England, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Cleveland!)

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Offensive Line/Running Game

So far down the list, and yet so underrated still.

I lumped the running backs into this group because while I believe James Conner is an elite player, we may still have questions as to Jaylen Samuels and rookie Benny Snell’s roles.

But those questions go away when you think of the offensive line of the Steelers. Led by All-Pro’s such as Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro, as well as Pro Bowl left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, three of the team’s five starting spots are loaded with top-flight players. (In fact, DeCastro may be the best guard in all of football.)

Ramon Foster is another locker room leader at left guard and a trust veteran. When he leaves the field, he’s backed up by B.J. Finney, who can also play center and could be a starter in the NFL for just about any team.

The right tackle spot was vacated when Marcus Gilbert was traded to Arizona, however, Gilbert’s absence in games over the last two seasons made the move necessary as last season’s starter in his place, Matt Feiler, did a more than admirable job.

Feiler will be looking over his shoulder, however, at recent draft picks selected to be groomed into starters: Jerald Hawkins, Chukwuma Okorafor, and a massive rookie in Derwin Gray. Practice squad player R.J. Prince also has a year under his belt to make an impression in camp.

This leads to a deep offensive line group whose biggest loss is that of coach Mike Munchak. His replacement has actually been with the Steelers much longer than Munch was, so I would also hesitate to knock Shaun Sarrett’s ability to coach up players too!

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What about the rest?

Well you'll have to wait and see for my "weakest" positions piece in the coming days. What holes do the Steelers have and just how "bad" are they?

Stay tuned to find out!





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  1. Cornerback in the “strengths” group? Man, you are a bold fellow Joe! I don’t disagree, mind you, but there’s probably some flak to be had. I hope Nelson is as good as we hope he is. I hope Hilton rebounds from whatever lost him some playing time at the end of last season. I would love to see (personally) Artie rebound and regain his confidence. And, man if the rest of this group can just be functionally proficient, I like it. Oh, and I REALLY want to see Brian Allen make a defensive contribution starting this year. Something I really like about this young man!

  2. Joe Kuzma says:

    Actually, Hilton played quite a bit last season for being the third guy on the field. He was hurt in Week 4 and scheme was likely more of the issue in Week 17, but otherwise his totals are on the mark all season. (See here: https://www.steelcityunderground.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/HiltonSnaps.jpg)

    As for Brian Allen, he has an uphill battle. He has to compete against Burns, Sutton, and rookie Justin Layne, plus the AAF player they signed (Keith… name escapes me atm!)

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