It has been an eventful few months for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After missing the playoffs in 2018, which was embarrassing enough, the team had a very messy and public divorce with star wide receiver Antonio Brown, all the while star running back Le’Veon Bell sat out the entire previous season. After beating the Patriots in Week 15, the team collapsed down the stretch. This led to questions about Mike Tomlin's leadership, and I would argue his seat is getting warm heading into 2019. If the Steelers are going to bounce back from a tough 2018 campaign it is going to not only require better play from the 37 year old quarterback, but also a head coach who can keep the locker room happy.
Ben Roethlisberger is still one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league, and will give the team a chance to compete. With that said, he is 37 years old, and while we’ve seen how older quarterbacks can still thrive, Big Ben's body is slowly starting to fail him. It will be interesting to see who wins the back up job between Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph.
At running back the team has James Conner, who was one of the better backs in football in 2018, filling in for the absent Le’Veon Bell who is now gone. The team also has Jaylen Samuels who looked good filling in for an injured Conners down the stretch, and drafted Benny Snell out of Kentucky who plays hard and will be a good rotational piece.
At wideout, the team has lost half of one of the best duos in the game. Antonio Brown is gone, but Juju Smith-Schuster is still there. He is going to have a monster year being the number one target, but he will also be dealing with being the main focus for the secondary. Behind him the team is pretty weak at wide receiver, but they did bring in Donte Moncrief to provide depth.
At tight end, the team is rather weak. Vance McDonald is the best bet to be the starter at this moment, but I would imagine the team tries to find a better option when rosters are cut from 90 to 53. The offensive line has always been a strong unit for the steelers, and that won't change in 2019. Maurkice Pouncy, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, and Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler is one of the better units in the league.
There was a time when the Steelers were synonymous with defense, but that is no longer the case. However, the Pittsburgh defense should still be formidable in 2019. Along the line, the team has Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, who present a formidable duo inside, and the team has TJ Watt and Bud Dupree on the edge. Overall, that’s a solid starting unit. At linebacker the team drafted Michigan thumper Devin Bush with the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft. After Ryan Shazier's devastating spine injury, the team has been looking for a replacement in the middle who plays with the passion of Shazier and Bush is definitely that guy. Right now, he is my way to early favorite to be defensive rookie of the year.
At corner, the team is weak. Joe Haden can still play, but he is getting old and the depth behind him is lack luster. Artie Burns is at the end of his leash and needs to put something (literally any part of his game) together this year if he is going to remain on the team. The safety position is weak as well for Pittsburgh, with Sean Davis and Terell Edmunds projected to start. The front 7 of this defense has potential to be one of the best in the league, but the secondary is what is going to keep them at league average.
Grade: C | Expected AFC North Finish: 3
The Steelers lost Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. I don't care how unhappy they were, that is a lot of talent to lose on one side of the ball. The only reason they didn’t get an F is because I like what they did in the draft, especially Devin Bush. While I still think Big Ben is one of the league's best, I’m putting my money on the teams with the young quarterbacks to reign supreme in the AFC North. Pittsburgh misses the playoffs for a second straight year.
Graduate of Loyola Maryland and die hard Boston sports fan. "I rub it in pretty good when I win" - Tom Brady