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Pittsburgh Steelers: Grading Each Player on the 53-Man Roster for 2011 Season

Cian FaheyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers: Grading Each Player on the 53-Man Roster for 2011 Season

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    Without a Super Bowl, the 2012 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers can only be considered a failure as a group.

    Despite this, there is some level of individuality to every team sport and the Steelers' roster will be no different. Some players have had good seasons, while others have failed to live up to expectations.

    Here is an individual grade for each of the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Quarterbacks

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    Ben Roethlisberger: B-

    Roethlisberger had a solid season this year. He remains an elite talent, but elite talent doesn't excuse decent play, as opposed to elite play. On the field Roethlisberger returned to his turnover-prone past without the quality decision making from last season.

    His athleticism wasn't as good as last year on the field, even prior to his injuries, and the offensive line didn't help his case because they never established a running game. Roethlisberger had to essentially carry the Steelers offense totally this year, with Bruce Arians having another year of...lets say questionable...play calling as well as having no running game.

    However, Roethlisberger is supposed to be an elite quarterback. He is paid like an elite quarterback and has elite weapons on the outside to show off his talents. It is understandable that his effectiveness is limited by Arians and the running game, but his production and consistency was lacking regardless this year.

    He set himself very high standards with only average weapons on the outside. Now he has all the threats that he needs and isn't getting the best out of himself.

    After the first few games of the season, Mike Wallace all but disappeared from the offense as Roethlisberger repeatedly underthrew him in games. Wallace needed to be fed in what was his coming out season he did eclipse 1,000 yardsbut he was free often enough to nearly double that.

     

    Charlie Batch: B-

    How does Charlie Batch get the same grade as Roethlisberger? Because Batch came in and did what was asked of him. He gave the team a chance to win when he was on the field. Nobody ever looked to Batch to be the franchise quarterback. He was a backup, a backup who came in and did his job.

    Unlike Roethlisberger, Batch isn't being paid over $10 million per season. With Batch, you get what you pay for however.

     

    Dennis Dixon: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

Running Backs

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    Rashard Mendenhall: B-

    Mendenhall gets a B- despite an underwhelming year statistically. He only eclipsed 100 yards twiceagainst the St. Louis Rams and Jacksonville Jaguarsbut most of his struggles were as a result of the offensive line in front of him. He still managed 928 yards in 15 games with nine touchdowns.

    The greatest issue with Mendenhall, as far as things that he can control, is his aggression when hitting the hole. There is no doubt that he doesn't show the hunger when attacking the line of scrimmage and stutters too often, but generally that is when there is no hole to run through. Repeatedly running into a wall would probably make most backs look to kick it outside more often.

    Either way, Mendenhall will have to work on that aspect of his game once he returns from injury next season. This team needs him and it will be difficult to grade him until the offensive line in front of him at least becomes respectable.

    His 18 receptions on the season are very disappointing for a player that can be a dynamic receiver in the open field. That is largely due to Bruce Arians not making use of Mendenhall's receiving ability. Rarely does Mendenhall get involved in any sort of a screen game, instead wide-receiver screens and tight ends are used, and he is taken out on third down.

    On first and second down, Mendenhall was more often than not used in play action, or ran the ball.

     

    Isaac Redman: B

    Redman is still a developing football player. There are some facets of the Steelers fanbase that would like to see him take over as the starter. The logic there is, at first glance he is a strong runner that hits the hole better than Mendenhall. However, now that the Steelers are a pass first offense, incorporating a limited player like Redman as a starter doesn't make sense. 

    Much like Cedric Benson, with Redman in the game you become more predictable with play-calling. He is a strong runner, but he cannot make big plays receiving out of the backfield or be consistently relied on to make big blocks a la Mendenhall.

    One thing that is for certain, Redman proved this year that he is a worthy role player and backup runner for the Steelers.

     

    Mewelde Moore: B-

    Mewelde Moore was largely underused this year. Injuries didn't help, but his 7.1 yards per carry and 11 receptions for 104 yards showed that he can still get it done as the team's third-down back. Unfortunately, Moore did something this year that he had never previously done for the Steelers. He lost a fumble, in fact, he lost two. Without those fumbles, he'd have been a B+ player.

     

    Jonathan Dwyer: C+

    Dwyer didn't spend enough time on the field to really be evaluated, but he showed off that he is a professional running back as opposed to just another college runner in his second season. Dwyer was out of shape last year and ineffective when on the field.

    This year, in limited time he showed some flashes. Although optimism should be tempered as his 76- yard run against the Titans severely inflates his statistics. That run didn't require Dwyer to be patient or beat any defenders. The one positive is that his speed is obviously there.

     

    John Clay: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

Wide Receivers

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    Mike Wallace: A

    Wallace's disappearing act in the second half of the season was not something that he could control. He had only four drops all season. Opposing defenses consistently swayed coverage to his side of the field resulting in Wallace facing a deep safety as well as an off-corner.

    Despite this, Wallace still managed to get open well into the final few games of the season. Roethlisberger simply failed to connect with him the way he had previously, often underthrowing or overthrowing him.

    Wallace's 72 receptions were impressive for a receiver who is often used as a clear-out player to pull coverage away from his teammates. He is not the type of receiver who needs to have the ball worked to him the way Bruce Arians always talks about doing. He truly is an elite receiver. He proved that this season.

     

    Antonio Brown: A+

    I may not necessarily agree with the team's choice as its MVP,I went for Carnell Lakebut anyone can see that he had a great season. Brown's development and consistency this season was unbelievable for only a second-year receiver.

    From early in the preseason, you could see that Brown was going to be a star for the Steelers this year. His route running is clean, his speed is obvious and his commitment is unmatched. Brown was just a speed guy last year, who also got some time on screen plays before one huge reception in the Ravens  game, but this year he ran every route in the playbook and rarely dropped a pass.

    Brown's stock rose so quickly this season that opposing defensive backs were intimidated by him, for good reason.

     

    Jerricho Cotchery: B+

    You rarely ask for much from a team's fifth-choice receiver. Jericho Cotchery on the other hand, isn't your typical fifth-choice receiver. Cotchery showed the Jets that they were wrong to try to replace him ahead of this year by moving up to being the Steelers' third option this year.

    Cotchery only had 16 receptions, but he didn't play in every game and fulfilled Hines Ward's slot role expertly. His sure hands and experienced route running made him the perfect complement to the team's other receivers.

     

    Hines Ward: B-

    Hines Ward finally lost his place in the Steelers' starting lineup this year, but he was by no means a passenger this year. Ward's greatest impact is coming off the field as receivers like Brown, Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders benefit from his tutelage.

    On the field Ward had only 46 receptions, many of which were open passes in the flat. His effectiveness on the field is undoubtedly reduced, but the drop-off is greatly exaggerated outside of Pittsburgh. Ward can still play quality football. It's just the receivers around him are so talented he cannot get on the field.

     

    Emmanuel Sanders: C

    To an extent, Sanders gets a pass this year. His offseason foot injury cost him the opportunity to get in a rhythm with his quarterback. Sanders has all the physical tools, but often he and Roethlisberger made different reads against zone defenses. When they did understand each other, Roethlisberger regularly overthrew or misplaced his passes to Sanders.

    It was an obvious reflection of a pairing that hadn't had enough time to prepare with each other for the season. Sanders has the abilities to be one of the best receivers in football, but he needs to be healthy year round to do so, including the preseason. 

     

    Arnaz Battle: B-

    Battle does his job as a special teamer, but he may not be needed next year as some youngsters emerged this year covering kicks.

Tight Ends

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    Heath Miller: A-

    Heath Miller is the consummate professional. Ask him to run across the middle and catch the football for a first down, he'll do it. Ask him to pull around the center and clear the way for a running back, he'll do it. Even ask him to line up as a running back and block on third down, and he'll do it.

    Miller's only limitation is the group of offensive linemen that forces him to be a blocker in key passing situations. He is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated tight ends in the NFL.

     

    David Johnson: B+

    David Johnson got nasty in the offseason. Whether it be just because of his comfort in the scheme or a greater role in the offense, Johnson showed off an ability to be an impact blocker in the running game this year from both the tight end position and as a fullback.

    While he may not be Vonta Leach, he does provide the team with good versatility and an ability to move in space. That's saying a lot for such a top-heavy build like Johnson's. He even showed some flashes as a receiver this year, albeit with some drops. Not too shabby a year for a blocking tight end and fullback.

     

    Weslye Saunders: C

    Saunders spent a lot of time on the field, but didn't make a huge impact as a receiver. He had only four receptions on the season but did get in the end zone against Kansas City. Saunders is a guy that could feature more next year as his physical attributes make him a difficult matchup with opposing defenses.

    However, that is next year. This year he receives a solid grade for a solid job as primarily a blocking tight end.

Centers

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    Maurkice Pouncey: D

    I still can't figure out why Maurkice Pouncey made the Pro Bowl, never mind the All-Pro team. The Pro Bowl was understandable because level of play doesn't matter as much as reputation for that, but the All-Pro selection is simply mind-boggling.

    Pouncey had a terrible year. He wasn't consistent in picking up blitzers crossing over the middle and made little-to-no impact on the second level as a run blocker. The fact that there was very little drop-off between he and Legursky is telling about what type of season Pouncey had. Legursky didn't suddenly turn into Nick Mangold.

    He was lauded coming into the season as a leader of men, but in reality that looks to be a little premature as it never showed up on the field.

     

    Trai Essex: C

    Essex is listed as a guard but he could have been placed anywhere as a backup for this offensive line. The former starter at guard actually looked more comfortable at center than I had ever seen him play as a guard or tackle.

    The veteran has the body to play center and the intelligence, so it would be no surprise to me if that was his position from now until the end of his career.

Offensive Guards

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    Doug Legursky: C

    Legursky is a little bit undersized to be an NFL guard. He missed some time during the season which didn't help him in his first season as a starter, but he did nothing to convince me that the Steelers should have retained Tony Hills in training camp.

    He can too easily be overpowered by interior defensive linemen to play effectively as a guard. Legursky is a reliable backup center. There is very little, if any, drop-off when Legursky plays ahead of Pouncey.

     

    Ramon Foster: C+

    Foster, despite watching a revolving door of players competing to replace him in the offseason, quietly had one of the better seasons of the Steelers' offensive linemen. He is the most reliable, if not the most talented, player protecting Ben Roethlisberger from the inside. 

    Foster will embarrass nobody if he remains the team's starting guard next season.

     

    Chris Kemoeatu: F

    Kemoeatu's time as a Steelers player should be finished. His playing style does not fit the Steelers' system anymore and his decision making is too rash. Without seemingly any sort of understanding or intelligence on the field, it's difficult to figure out why he was given such a big contract only a year or two ago.

     

    Jamon Meredith: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

Offensive Tackles

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    Jonathan Scott: C-

    Jonathan Scott is a solid backup. Key word: backup. Scott entered the season as the team's starting left tackle and he simply isn't capable of playing the position full-time.

     

    Willie Colon: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

     

    Max Starks: B

    Starks rejoined the team during the season after being released for being overweight in the offseason. The only thing big about Starks when he returned was his play. Starks solidified the left tackle position, quietly going about his job to fend off pass rushers from the blindside.

    Starks was a capable starting left tackle in the NFL, which is saying something for the Steelers, prior to his injury. The Steelers will be desperately hoping that he can return next season.

     

    Marcus Gilbert: A-

    Marcus Gilbert had a fine rookie season when the Steelers really needed him. Once Willie Colon went down, Gilbert stepped up and showed off a combination of size, strength, agility and intelligence that has been lacking on the Steelers' offensive line.

    Gilbert had a Maurkice Pouncey-type of first season in the NFL. Let's just hope he doesn't have a Pouncey-type of second season.

Defensive Ends

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    Aaron Smith: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

     

    Brett Keisel: B+

    Anyone who wants to explain to me why Brett Keisel didn't make the Pro-Bowl team hit me up on twitter. Keisel had another great season for the Steelers. Despite being 33 years of age, Keisel isn't slowing down. He had 48 tackles this year and three sacks with two forced fumbles and six passes defensed.

    Without Aaron Smith across from him, Keisel has had no problems with assuming the role of the elder statesman at defensive end. He will be missed when he retires, which could be this offseason, despite the talent coming up behind him.

     

    Evander Hood: B

    Hood is maturing quite nicely for the Steelers. He wasn't as disruptive as a pass rusher this year as opposed to last, but showed greater strength at the point of attack in the running game. He is still learning to make best use of his hands to beat blockers but is already a capable starter.

    Replacing Aaron Smith is an impossible ask of Hood, however, the Steelers clearly haven't missed with Ziggy. Entering his fourth season next year, he should start to show even more than he has to this point. This season showed us that he is still very much on that learning curve, however.

     

    Cameron Heyward: B-

    Heyward showed flashes this year when he wasn't expected to get on the field at all coming into the season. He is different to Hood in that he will be more like Keisel in the future in all likelihood. His speed is above average for a 3-4 end, and his arm strength will be unstoppable after a year or two of coaching.

    Without that many opportunities, the former Buckeye created a lot of optimism about the future of the defensive line.

     

    Al Woods: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

Nose Tackles

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    Casey Hampton: B

    The 34-year-old starting nose tackle began to show his age this past season. Starting off the season with a terrible showing in Baltimore, thanks to some questionable blocking, Hampton still had an average season going by the standards of most NFL nose tackles.

    He only factors in the running game and has been dominant in that role throughout his career, but while he was good this year, he didn't consume blockers or push his blockers into the backfield as much as he has done in previous seasons.

     

    Steve McLendon: B

    McLendon looks like a fantastic find for the Steelers' coaching staff. He is more versatile than Hampton without being an expert at one facet of the position. McLendon showed off a motor in limited action for the Steelers this year that allows him to force the issue against the pass rush.

    Because of his size, his future could potentially lie at defensive end if the Steelers draft a nose tackle. He proved to the Steelers' staff this year that he is deserving of at least being the backup next year ahead of Chris Hoke.

     

    Chris Hoke: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

Outside Linebackers

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    James Harrison: C+

    Harrison's play is no longer at the MVP level it was in recent years. This past season he did manage nine sacks in only 11 appearances, however six of those sacks came in two games. Harrison has all the ability, but the consistency is lacking. He still gets held too much without any penalties being called.

    Harrison's discipline on the field was a major issue this year. Against the Browns he was suspended for a hit on Colt McCoy, while in the playoffs against the Denver Broncos, Harrison's indiscipline in scheme responsibility allowed Tim Tebow to repeatedly break runs to the outside.

    With Jason Worilds emerging, and Harrison's age/contract, don't be too shocked if the team moves on from him next year.

     

    LaMarr Woodley: A+

    Woodley's grade is only being judged on the first eight games of the season. After Week 8 against New England, he was never close to being fully healthy and it showed. In the first eight games of the season, he showed off why he is now one of the highest paid players on the roster.

    His dominance against the run continued as he easily overcame double teams. He was in the middle of one of his sack streaks  when he got injured midseason with two sacks in each of his final three games. During the first eight games of the season, Woodley had at least half a sack in six of the games.

    Consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback is the reason Woodley is so highly valued by the Steelers. His injury had huge repercussions for the Steelers' season.

     

    Jason Worilds: B

    Worilds has been a development prospect for the Steelers as a rookie before finally getting his chance this year. He started seven games this year and showed some level of potential without overwhelming his opposition.

    Worilds is only 23 years of age and in his second season transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker. His stock only rose this past season, but he still looks as if he needs to bulk up to be a full-time starter.

     

    Chris Carter: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

Inside Linebackers

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    James Farrior: D+

    Farrior was limited for the Steelers last year, and this year he should have been a backup. It is no coincidence that the Steelers' best defensive performance came in a game that Farrior missed against New England. Farrior's style of play doesn't match up to the pass-happy NFL any more.

    He is at best, a two-down linebacker who needs to come out in passing situations. He obviously did not have the ability to cover opposing tight ends or receivers this season and ultimately became an obvious blitzer on third downs. An obvious blitzer is a useless blitzer.

     

    Lawrence Timmons: C+

    For many linebackers in the NFL, Lawrence Timmons had a good season. For Lawrence Timmons however, there is no doubt that he had a down year. Regardless of his moving around to cover for injuries, Timmons play on the field was a step slower than last year.

    Timmons reverted to the unsure, laboring linebacker that didn't dominate blockers or penetrate offensive lines linebacker who started out his career in Pittsburgh. Timmons had overcome those issues last year, resulting in a 135-tackle season, but will need to erase them again this offseason.

     

    Larry Foote: C+

    Foote did enough this season to tell me that he should return next year as the starter. Foote did split time with Farrior at times during the season but for the most part was a backup. He is a similar style of linebacker to Farrior, but has more athleticism which allows him to be used more in coverage.

    It was another reliable season from Mr. Reliable.

     

    Stevenson Sylvester: C

    Sylvester hasn't taken the steps on defense that fans were hoping he would have by now, but he remains an excellent special teams player for the Steelers. He was repeatedly the first down the field on kickoff returns to occupy blockers or force returners to move laterally.

    He may not ever be a starting inside linebacker, but there is value to a quality special teams player. Sylvester, is at least that, with the potential to someday become a starter still there.

     

    Morty Ivy: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

Cornerbacks

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    Ike Taylor: A+

    Taylor had a horrifyingly bad playoff performance, but it says something to the trust that he had earned from Dick LeBeau to be left alone with DeMaryius Thomas for most of the game. Taylor had earned that trust because of his All-Pro level of play in the regular season.

    He gave up two touchdowns in the regular season and repeatedly shut down the opposition's first- choice receiver. Without Taylor, the Steelers secondary would have had no chance of being ranked first against the pass. Taylor's season may be remembered for his awful playoff showing, but one off day doesn't determine his quality.

     

    William Gay: B

    Gay did more than have an All-Pro season. He actually won over the majority of Steelers fans. Gay was nothing near to Taylor's level, but he was a reliable corner. The emergence of Keenan Lewis on the outside no doubt helped him as he spent more time in the slot than ever before.

    A new contract from another team may be in Gay's future this offseason after what he showed this year. That is saying something considering the Steelers brought him in last season late after being a free agent.

     

    Keenan Lewis: B

    Much like Jason Worilds, this was another season of development for Keenan Lewis. This was his first actual opportunity to earn substantial playing time on the field as the outside corner in the Steelers' nickel package.

    He has all the attributes of a starting corner, but lacked a level of consistency this year. Lewis' biggest issues were just refining his overall level of play. He should be assured of a place on next season's roster thanks to his play this year. The likelihood is that he will start across from Taylor, which is saying something for a player that has gotten used to being in the doghouse with Mike Tomlin.

     

    Cortez Allen: B-

    Allen gets a B- but he could have easily been a N/A. Allen was the fourth-choice corner for the Steelers, but showed a lot of flashes on the field in his very limited action. He was drafted as a project out of The Citadel, but has obviously taken well to coaching.

    Beating out Curtis Brown and Bryant McFadden was an achievement enough, but actually making a difference on the field and shutting down receivers was more than anyone dreamed of when his name came off the draft board last year.

     

    Curtis Brown: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

     

    Bryant McFadden: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

     

    Anthony Madison: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

Safeties

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    Ryan Clark: A-

    Clark led the Steelers in tackles this year. If you had told me that would have happened before this season, I would have presumed that he had had a terrible season in coverage. In fact, Clark didn't have a terrible season in coverage. He was outstanding for a run-stuffing safety.

    He really stepped up his play after a poor season before. His efforts against the run were as reliable as ever while his coverage skills looked nothing like they had previously. He has definitely bought himself more time as the starting safety in Pittsburgh despite Ryan Mundy pressuring him.

     

    Troy Polamalu: C+

    Higher standards equal harsher treatment. Polamalu signed a bumper deal in the offseason, and a lot was expected of him after being injured for the playoffs last year. Polamalu was disruptive this year, but the turnovers didn't come.

    To make matters worse, he was also regularly caught out of position in the passing game and missed more tackles this season than seemingly in all of the three previous. At 30 years of age, hopefully this season wasn't a sign of decline coming into the star safety's play.

    Much like Pouncey, it's baffling why Troy Polamalu received All-Pro votes.

     

    Ryan Mundy: B-

    Mundy has been a backup for the Steelers for a few seasons now without having much to do. This year he showed flashes in limited action and looks like a starting caliber free safety. Much like Taylor, he will be remembered for missing his assignment in the playoffs on the final play of the game.

    However, the real problem on that play was the scheme. No safety in that situation would have been able to react quick enough to make any kind of play on the football.

    The former Michigan Wolverine has good range and reminded the Steelers this year that he could still be a potential replacement for Clark in the long-term.

     

    Will Allen: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

     

    DaMon Cromartie-Smith: N/A

    Not enough time on the field.

Special Teams

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    Shaun Suisham: C

    The Steelers got what they paid for with Suisham: a limited and inconsistent kicker.  

     

    Jeremy Kapinos: B

    Kapinos was a great replacement for Daniel Sepulveda considering the circumstances. His 45-yard average and 10 punts inside the opposition's 20 are more than respectable statistics. His consistency kicking the football is comforting. The only thing lacking compared to Sepulveda is the ability to make open-field tackles.

     

    Daniel Sepulveda: N/A

    Injuries may have ended his career. 

     

    Greg Warren: N/A

    As much as I'd love to analyze the long-snapper, I just can't.

     

    Tweeting @Cianaf

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