When you love your team, you love everything about it. But sometimes you need some tough love as well, and it pains me to bring up the position groups that may be the biggest holes on the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 roster.
But before I do that, I like to build people up too. So check out my previous article on the strongest positions on the Steelers 2019 roster before we start judging what everything else looks like on paper!
With that said, here are some areas of concern for the Steelers upcoming season.
Vance McDonald is a beast – but what happens if he goes down?
That was a criticism of the team during this year’s draft, with most believing the Steelers would select another tight end to complement McDonald. While Pittsburgh picked Zach Gentry, he’s a raw prospect and not a potential replacement if McDonald were absent in the lineup: at least not in the immediate future.
That leaves only veteran journeyman Xavier Grimble as the other capable tight end on the depth chart. Grimble is a physical specimen who has the athletic tools to succeed but has had scattered success in his pro career. (Including a costly fumble against the Denver Broncos last season.)
I think the Steelers could get by here, but if McDonald gets banged up (he has never played 16 games in six NFL seasons) they could be in trouble. McDonald played ten games in 2017 and 15 in 2018. When he’s healthy, he’s a potential Pro Bowl player.
Otherwise, the Steelers may be looking at roster cuts from other teams late in the process to add more depth to the chart. Jake McGee, an undrafted college free agent who was on IR last season, will come to camp as well to compete. But will the team rely on this trio of tight ends as their Plan B if McDonald isn’t on the field?
That definitely adds this position as one to question moving forward.
Another position which wasn’t addressed much this offseason is safety.
The Steelers have two capable starters in last year’s first round pick Terrell Edmunds and veteran Sean Davis, however, veteran Morgan Burnett was jettisoned after asking for his release, leaving some uncertainty with the backup situation.
Jordan Dangerfield, an off-and-on practice squad player has earned his position on the team over the years and flashed a lot of promise. Marcus Allen, a fifth-round selection in last year’s draft, will start to see more playing time as he was eased onto the field late in 2018.
That’s four safeties without much thought to who else is on the depth chart. The Steelers added two undrafted college free agents to their roster following the NFL Draft, but head coach Mike Tomlin also made it known to the media that cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Mike Hilton are “capable” of playing safety in a pinch.
While that’s not the most refreshing thought, to get to that point would require a devastating series of blows to the safety position, which should help us all rest at night. Also, newly signed LB Mark Barron started his NFL career as a safety and may also be able to lend a hand in the defensive backfield, should worse come to worst.
It’s hard for me to put this on the “concern” category but to not do so would be ignoring an inconsistent performance from the Steelers specialists in 2018.
Chris Boswell, who was a Pro Bowl kicker in 2017, was anything but last season.
Jordan Berry returns on a one-year deal after being shaky to start the 2018 campaign as well.
All three will have competition in camp this offseason. (For more in-depth analysis, click here to listen to our podcast about all of the Steelers specialists.)
Finally, the position that gets more flack than it should: outside linebacker.
Gone are the days of bull-rushing James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Joey Porter or whomever else you want to add as the Steelers great pass rushers on the edge. Today we live in a pass-happy NFL where starters Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt drop into coverage more than most of their peers at similar positions across the league.
The Steelers also deploy more blitzes from the interior of the defense and use more defensive back heavy schemes which keep only two defensive linemen on the field at times.
That means the outside linebackers are seldom responsible for the team’s sacks. In fact, the Steelers have led the league in sacks each of the last two seasons despite some low totals from Dupree and even from Watt in his rookie season.
Still, this had to go on the list as a position that may or may not have been addressed in the draft. Sutton Smith is a bit undersized at the pro level and rumblings are he could move inside: where Vince Williams and Mike Hilton are the leading blitzers percentage wise. Smith’s speed is what makes him tricky for offensive linemen to get ahold of, but when and where it will translate at the NFL level puts a question mark on the entire position behind the two starters.
That’s where Anthony Chickillo and Ola Adeniyi factor in. Chickillo has been a special teams ace and a fill-in edge defender for several years now, but does he have the chops to be a full-time starter if Bud Dupree leaves after this season? Or if there’s an injury? (Knock on wood!)
Adeniyi is unproven, but looked every bit of the number 92 he wore during the 2018 preseason.
There’s room for growth and certainly potential at this position, but if it’s not realized, the Steelers may have tough sledding on the edge in 2019.