Tim Benz: NFL Draft could have a big impact on many current Steelers
As we posted Saturday evening after the conclusion of the draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers simply had too many roster issues this offseason to have them all properly addressed before training camp starts.
This is normally the case for teams that miss the playoffs. And it’s definitely the case after non-playoff years in Pittsburgh because the Steelers usually don’t try to patch those holes with top-of-the-line talent in free agency.
That’s why players such as linebacker Mark Barron, receiver Donte Moncrief, and cornerback Steven Nelson were inked.
They are mid- to low-level free agent signings brought on board to be placeholders at the top of the depth chart. Although the hope at Steelers headquarters is that they get bypassed on the roster by the middle of the season by high-round draft picks who emerge as predicted.
The Steelers brain trust is of the belief that those veterans will play the role better than safety Morgan Burnett did last year.
And they better hope the rookies drafted to battle them for playing time — linebacker Devin Bush, receiver Diontae Johnson, and cornerback Justin Layne — are all at least as good by the end of 2019 as Terrell Edmunds was at the end of his 2018 rookie campaign.
Because the Steelers decided to double-down on addressing those three positions in both the draft and free agency, they left a few other positions unaddressed. Two that leap to mind are outside linebacker and safety. It doesn’t stop there, though. The Steelers’ draft strategy may wind up thrusting quite a few existing players into expanded — or very different — roles in 2019.
If either T.J. Watt or Bud Dupree suffer a significant injury, then Anthony Chickillo will ascend to a starting slot. Either Adeniyi or 2017 seventh-round pick Keion Adams will have to serve as the primary backup on gamedays.
Based on comments Colbert made in the post-draft press conference, it sounds like Adeniyi could be the guy to see increased reps.
The undrafted second-year player out of Toledo showed a lot of promise in his rookie preseason but had just one tackle in the regular season a year ago.
Not only will he and Adams be trying to flash for more playing time this year, but they also will be vying for a roster spot next year if Dupree leaves via free agency.
Best known for one particular disaster last year …
This is an excellent play call by Fichtner. Slipping Grimble out like that is cash, but you can't fumble there. This is the biggest play of the game in my opinion, they left seven on the board here. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/QPBB3YdZdL
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) November 26, 2018
… Grimble will likely have a few more chances to erase that fumble in Denver from our memory banks.
Grimble had 11 catches for 118 yards in 2016. He needed two more years to equal those exact totals in 2017 and 2018.
Aside from using a fifth-round pick on Zach Gentry — deemed by some to be a long-term project — the team did little to build up the tight end room. Jesse James is now in Detroit. Starter Vance McDonald has frequent injuries. Grimble is going to need to develop in a big way this year.
As a rookie, Samuels chipped in more than I expected last season with 82 touches. And he had that stunning, monster game against the Patriots with 172 yards from scrimmage.
However, the organization doesn’t seem sold on him as a backup to James Conner because it spent a fourth-round pick on Kentucky running back Benny Snell.
Maybe we’ll see Samuels absorb some of those tight end duties in an H-back role.
Didn’t I write this last year? The Steelers like Sutton as a defensive back. They think he is versatile and smart. Unfortunately, whether it’s been a numbers game, or injury, or being a jack of all trades but master of none, Sutton’s potential hasn’t manifested often on the field.
At then end of Day 3, head coach Mike Tomlin brought up Sutton as an option at safety in 2019, even though he was drafted as a corner. And there are snaps to be had at that position. Beyond Edmunds and Sean Davis as the starters, the only returning full-time safety on the roster right now is Jordan Dangerfield.
Allen is also listed as a safety. But on Saturday, Tomlin made it sound like the second-year Penn State product would be concentrating on becoming a depth player at dime linebacker this season.
If first-round pick Devin Bush and Barron are essentially replacing L.J. Fort and Jon Bostic, then Allen could be the de facto version of Burnett.
Allen only played in two games last season. He’ll have to help out a lot more this year.
Things could change during the summer months. Veteran players could be scooped up by Colbert between now and the start of the regular season. But if no one of consequence fits that bill, the Steelers will need much more than they’ve seen from these players to fill in the gaps.