Steelers Depth Chart – Pre-Draft & Free Agency

This entry was posted by on Sunday, 31 January, 2016 at

January 2016 depth chart ii
What if you looked at the Steelers depth chart from a slightly different standpoint? What if it included expiring contracts?

Would it change your perspective on where the Steelers should direct their attention 1st this offseason?

A snap shot of the Steelers current depth chart, along with notations on contracts slated to expire in the next 14 months appears above. Players marked with # are scheduled to be UFAs in 2017. I did not include players due to be restricted or exclusive rights free agents at the end of 2016.

People are visual by nature. When you look at the depth chart this way it, rather than just considering where you may believe the team needs improvement, it becomes clear where the Steelers personnel priorities lie before free agency and the draft. Whatever moves the Steelers make must take into consideration expiring contracts.

If you leave those places on the depth chart blank, where a UFA occupies that spot, it becomes even more clear.

Jan 2016 depth chart greyed area

The Steelers find themselves in a better position at offensive tackle than expected due to the development of Al Villanueva and Mike Adams being beholden to the team for an additional season due to his contract tolling from 2015 to 2016. I consider Adams to be a right tackle only. The Steelers do not. Don’t expect them to draft an offensive tackle this year before the late rounds, if at all.

They may have a problem at right guard with Ramon Foster being an unrestricted free agent. His linemate David DeCastro is likely to get an extension this year that makes him one of, if not the highest paid guard in the NFL. That could complicate negotiations with Foster if he feels slighted by being offered a lot less. Guard could become a priority at draft time, depending on what happens in free agency.

I would not usually even make mention of a 4th team running back, but I think that the Steelers try to bring back Jordan Todman for another year. The question is, does he look for a team that will give him a greater opportunity?
I don’t see an issue at fullback. Roosevelt Nix averaged 10 offensive snaps per game. Will Johnson averaged 5.5. I do expect the Steelers to offer Johnson a contract, but there is no reason to be concerned about him turning it down.

Expect Darrius Heyward-Bey to be offered another 1 year, vet qualifying minimum salary contract. Some people believe DHB will try to test the market. If so, I would rather watch him leave than see the Steelers eat the additional cap space it might take to keep him in the fold. He’s a good locker room presence and a valuable special teams contributor, but paying more than the minimum for a #5 WR is wasteful.  Sammie Coates is due to expand his role next year, which means that DHB’s will diminish. Neither Coates nor DHB are likely to bump AB, Bryant or Wheaton out of their respective spots on the depth chart.

The Steelers need another QB. I’d rather they let Bruce Gradkowski walk. I’ve never been a fan. But, more importantly, Landry Jones needs to compete with a guy who is going to push him to maintain his position on the depth chart. Bringing in a more accomplished vet QB to compete with Jones will force him to either exceed his current level of play or hasten his exit from the NFL. Jones has done well in spots, but he’s also done extremely poorly in others. He’s got to be more consistent.
Mike Vick is done. Stick a fork in him. I supported him when he was signed, but his play was underwhelming. The Steelers offense under his direction put up 20 points on Baltimore and 24 on San Diego; two of the worst defenses in the NFL. They could only manage 6 points in 35 minutes versus Arizona. Fans that honestly prefer Vick to Jones aren’t taking Vick’s diminished skill set into account. They still remember the Mike Vick of old and expect that any second, soon to be 36-year old, Vick will show that explosiveness again. He won’t. He should retire.

The Steelers do have a need at nose tackle with Steve McLendon scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Big Dan McCullers hasn’t progressed as far as the team hoped he would in his second year. However, the Steelers’ Nickel Defense has become the “base” formation. Nose tackles are playing fewer and fewer snaps each season as a result. I believe that McLendon is a competent defensive end, especially in a one gap scheme. The Steelers don’t seem to think so. I look for them to weigh bringing in a player with more versatility, a guy who can play both spots on a start/rotational basis.
The Steelers also have a hole at backup defensive end. But is Cam Thomas leaving the team really as big a problem as having him at 3rd defensive end to begin with? If you eliminate the two games when Stephon Tuitt did not play because he was injured, CFT averaged fewer than 10 snaps per game. The second of those two games featured more of McLendon at defensive end due to the coaches’ lack of trust in Thomas. I don’t expect him back and believe his absence will be addition by subtraction.
Expect them to sign a veteran (Al Woods anyone?) or draft a rotational player if they believe that L.T. Walton has done enough to be a contributor next year. Ideally that 3rd defensive end should be capable of playing 25 or more snaps per game at defensive end and another dozen or so at nose tackle in order to spell Heyward and Tuitt enough to keep them fresh.

I don’t expect Sean Spence to come back. What he has done coming back from a catastrophic knee injury to be a spot starter at the NFL level is flat out amazing. But, he can get more money and greater opportunity on the open market than the Steelers can offer. Expect the team to draft another inside backer to compete in camp with L.J. Fort who they like a great deal.

I expect the team to bring in a punter to compete with Jordan Berry, but I doubt very much that he loses his roster spot. I’ll set aside judgment of his performance versus Denver because of not only the wind, but a serious right shoulder injury that he sustained in the 1st quarter attempting a tackle. That said, Berry has got to be more consistent with his hang time and length next year.
You can expect Greg Warren to sign another 1 year, vet qualifying minimum deal with the Steelers again next year. He gets a little over $1 million to play, the Steelers get a hit of only $680 thousand against the cap. It’s a win-win.

Now for the unit that is most of need of fresh talent: the Steelers defensive backfield. Other than slot corner back, it doesn’t matter where the Steelers add talent to the defensive backfield. If they see a prospect who will be a stud free safety, they can easily convert Mitchell to strong safety. They need a boundary corner and a safety.

Will Gay, Will Allen, Antwon Blake, Brandon Boykin and Robert Golden are all unrestricted free agents. I expect the Steelers to try to bring most, if not all, of them back. Given that they are going to experience some losses regardless, they need to add at least two bodies. Either Boykin or Gay are gone, IMO. I believe it will be Boykin who leaves. The Steelers did not utilize him to his fullest abilities until they were forced to. I believe he will look elsewhere before looking to Pittsburgh for a new contract.

It has little to do with the subject at hand but, I don’t buy the Senquez Golson is a free 2016 draft pick argument. The Steelers wouldn’t have traded a 5 to Philly for Boykin, a one year rent-a-player, if Golson hadn’t been injured. Ergo, Golson cost a 2 last year and a 5 this year. That’s a huge investment in a player. Golson cost the Steelers a lot. He just doesn’t cost anything in 2016. Neither does most of the roster if you want to look at it that way.

Big picture: The Steelers defense led the AFC with 30 forced turnovers and netted 48 sacks, the most since 2010. They were the #7 run defense on 1st down at 3.73 yards per carry and the #6 overall run D at 3.82 YPC. All dramatic improvements over 2014.

But they were also the #30 passing defense and 20th at keeping the opposition from converting 3rd downs via the pass. They gave up 29 TDs through the air to only 6 on the ground. The passing defense has to improve. Given what’s transpired, to me that means two things: coverage and tackling. If they can make changes that accomplish improvements in those two areas, they will be a solid unit. If not don’t expect much to change.

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