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Predicting Steelers 2019 Starting Lineup with Grades Pt. 1 – The Offense

July 22, 2019
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Predicting Steelers 2019 Starting Lineup with Grades Pt. 1 – The Offense

This year, the Steelers will have to face the ‘new Patriots’ in the AFC North (sarcasm emoji). So many sports pundits have been predicting Pittsburgh’s demise, it’s like the team shouldn’t even bother to show up for the 2019 season.  A lot of nonsense has been said about the departure of ‘me first, nobody else second’, idiots, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Again, almost all the sports media has jumped in saying it’s doom for Ben who has been buoyed up for years (according to them) by Brown. They seem to have no memory that Ben was a 1st tier QB talent, two time Super Bowl winner, Pro Bowler and was pretty much  a lock on the Hall of Fame before Brown ever had a big season with the team. They predicted the end of the Steelers’ running game only to have James Conner show he could quite ably handle the starting duties with far less bitching, greed, drama and bad fake rap music.

The Steelers made a lot a moves in the off season to plug some big holes on Defense and augmented some Offensive positions. There are still some weaknesses and the team made glaring mistakes by not adding competition for Bud Dupree’s Outside Linebacker and Chris Boswell’s Placekicker spot but in general they did a very good job. Knowing the way Kevin Colbert works there will be anywhere from one to a handful of value free agent signings around the final cuts, so the team is not done yet.

We are concentrating on the Offense this time around. Here’s a prediction of the Steelers starting lineup along with the current depth situation, with grades.

Offense

Quarterback

Starter – Ben Roethlisberger – Not much to say here that you don’t already know except, again, all of the pundits are pushing Baker Mayfield as an ‘elite’ QB while treating Ben as an afterthought. That’s total B.S. Look for Ben to have a great year to prove all the doubters wrong. Grade – A++

Backups – The drafting of Mason Rudolph last year puts the Steelers in a very good position. (No matter what Brandon Boykin says) Rudolph should have a big preseason that will make the fans much more hopeful about the future. Josh Dobbs beat out Landry Jones last year for the backup job. That’s not much, but it’s somethin’. Grade B

Wide Receiver

Starters – WR1 – Juju Smith-Shuster – Juju led the team in every receiving category other than touchdowns and went to the Pro Bowl. Look for him to do it again and be #1 in TDs, as well. Grade – A+

WR-2 – Donte Moncrief – Like many, I was underwhelmed by this signing but the more I’ve watched Moncrief the more I like him. Blazing 4.40/40 speed, 6’-2”, 220# frame. He’s tough across the middle, good with combat catches, can make things happen after the catch and he’s only 25 years old. He will also get a chance to blow the top off the Defense, which is an ability he’s always had and never been able to use in the pros. He’s been saddled with injured or horrible QB play his entire career. Look for Donte to have a break out season. Prediction: 80+ catches for 900+ yards and at least 7 TDs. Grade – B

Slot/WR3 – James Washington – Washington was a non-factor his rookie season but that’s as much a rapport issue with Ben as anything else. It takes Ben four games to warm up to a new WR. If they drop a pass or screw up a route, which Washington did, that four turns to eight. The two seemed to be connecting down the stretch when Ben stopped waiting for James to get open and just threw the ball to him. Washington is outstanding with combat catches, has deceptive buildup speed and he should have a greatly improved year. Prediction: 60+ catches for 700+ yards and at least 5 touchdowns. Grade: C+ to B-.

Starters WR Group Grade, being cautiously optimistic.

Grade – B

 Backups – As a group, not so hot. If he’s healthy Eli Rogers will probably beat out Ryan Switzer for #2 Slot. Both average under 10 yards a reception, can’t get any separation and get next to nothing after the catch, That’s no bueno. It looks like the Steelers will not be bringing back Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Steelers have ZERO backups at the outside positions. Micheal Crabtree is still out there. If he’s willing to accept a WR/3-4 situation, the Steelers need to sign him. And they could add another veteran WR on top of that. This current group, Grade – D-

 Oh, crap, I forgot Diontae Johnson. I gave this Draft pick an F. Johnson had a 6th Rd to priority FA grade from almost every Draft site. He’s not big, not fast, runs sloppy routes, freelances too much and can’t catch balls outside his frame. He’s also a lousy blocker who shows poor effort. He was a wasted draft pick who will be in Tomlin’s Doghouse of Doom after the second big drop.

The Steelers 2019 Draft Review

Tight End

Starter – Vance McDonald – Stiff Arm of Death, notwithstanding, McDonald is a pretty average starter. He’s decent in the passing game and a good, not great, blocker. He is adequate at what the team likes from their TEs. The Steelers let yet another strong TE Draft class come and go without upgrading the position. Prediction: 50+ receptions for around 600 yards and 4 TDS. Grade – C+

Backups – Xavier Grimble enters training camp as the #2. That’s not good. Grimble did nothing in college and he’s done nothing in the pros, Grade – D-. Zach Gentry was the team’s 5th Rd Draft pick. He’s a tall target and good blocker. He has potential but is a bit of a project player. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if he beats out Grimble for TE2. Grade – Incomplete. (We haven’t seen him play yet.) Hard blocking Jake McGee was released after suffering an Achilles’ tear. The team needs to bring in a veteran to bolster this group. Grimble has hung around long enough. Time to move on, Grade – D.

Running Backs

Starters – Look for the Steelers to go to more of a ‘Running Back by committee’ this year. James Conner (Grade – A) will handle the majority of the duties with Conner’s clone, rookie, Benny Snell, being primary 3rd down back. The versatile Jaylen Samuels (Grade – B) will be their primary receiving back and may well take a lot of snaps away from Switzer and Rogers at Slot. The team only keeps 3 RBs and they should all be major contributors. The best and deepest group at the position in a long time for the team. Grade – A

 Fullback

Frankly, I don’t know why this position exists in the NFL anymore. It makes me sad because I grew up watching Larry Csonka, Earl Campbell, John Riggins and other great bruiser backs of that era. Roosevelt Nix is a fan favorite and good Special Team’s player but he adds nothing to the Offense. I really think it would be better to have a reserve TE or athletic O-Lineman perform Hammer-back duties and save  the roster spot for another skill player. For what Rosy or any other Fullback does nowadays, Grade – D

 Offensive Line

The Steelers invested heavily in the O-Line over the years  and it paid off. The team has one of the best in the league. The starting lineup should be as follows: LT. Alejandro Villanueva – Best pass protector at the position in recent memory. Becoming a perennial Pro Bowler Grade – A. LG Ramon Foster – Great in pass protection and run  blocks up the middle. Can’t pull to save his life, Grade – B. Center, Maukice Pouncey – Perennial Pro Bowler. Anchor of the middle of the line, Grade – A+. RG David DeCastro – Future Hall of Famer, Grade – A+, RT Matt Feiler – Starter Marcus Gilbert went down and Fieler made him expendable. It’s Feiler’s job to lose. I don’t think he will, Grade – B.

 O-Line Starters Group, Grade – A.

Backups – Steelers are in pretty good shape here. They don’t have a lot of depth but B.J. Finney who plays both Guard and Center and OT, Chuks Okorafor who can play both the right and left side, could probably be starting for a number of teams. OT Jerald Hawkins has either been injured or shown nothing. The Steelers last 2019 Draft pick, Derwin Grey, will only have a chance to make the final 53 if the team stands pat with who they currently have. They shouldn’t. They need to add some veteran depth here around final cuts. Based on the strength of Finney and Okorafor, Grade – B.

 

Placekicker

I’ve saved the worst for last. Chris Boswell scored the big contract and totally fell apart in 2018. Boswell only connected on 13 for 20 field goal attempts for a 65.0% average. That stat landed him NFL 38th out of 40 overall and dead last, 32nd, among starters. He was equally crappy on extra points going 43 for 48 for an abysmal 89.9%, which landed him 29th among starters.

What was worse was Boswell choked on almost every game winning or game changing kick attempt. He was so bad Tomlin often resorted to going for it on 4th down and opting for the two point conversion attempt rather than chancing a Boswell kick. I checked Boswell’s college stats and he was horrible at Rice, too. His good years with Steelers were probably an aberration. Time to move on, Grade – F-.(Yes, that’s a minus sign)

The Competition – The Steelers have done very badly so far in providing competition for the starting PK spot. They passed over Matt Gay and Cole Tracy who were the best kickers coming out of college. All of the unsigned NFL FA kickers are total crap other than Matt Bryant and he’s 44, so he’d be a stopgap move. The kid they signed, Matthew Wright, was a well below average kicker in college. A four year starter, Wright kicked a bad 98.6% on extra points and only 77.5% on field goals on his career. Wright only had one kick for 50 yards.  He has never made a kick over 50 yards. If Boswell is the problem, Wright ain’t the solution, Grade – F- (Yes, that’s another minus sign)

I wrote an article on the Steelers Placekicker situation. Its very subtle title is, “Steelers SHOULD Sign Cole Tracy and Create a REAL Placekicker Competition

Overall Offensive Team Grade – The Steelers are in very good shape for the most part but the glaring problem at Placekicker can’t be overlooked. Other than the QB your PK is the most important player when the game is on the line. Because of that situation the most I can give them is, Grade – B-

Next up. The ‘D”. What do think? Do you agree with my assessment? Let us

know in the comments, below!!!

Go Stillers!!!

Jeffrey Burton

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