The Pittsburgh Steelers have mostly been counted out by commentators, and you really have to search to find anyone who has them higher than third in the division.
Contrary to what most believe though, the Steelers will be right there the entire season, and I’d be surprised if they did in fact miss the playoffs.
Here I will grade each positional unit on the Steelers from A, being great players and good depth, to D, meaning an area that really needs improvement.
Players In Camp: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones, John Parker Wilson
The Steelers have an elite starting quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, and he will continue to be just that in 2013. Ben would have probably gotten this grade up to an A himself, but what the Steelers did this offseason behind him got it to an A+. Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch looked to both be about 80 years old on the field last season, and neither are with the team now.
Bruce Gradkowski is a more than solid backup quarterback and has starting experience if Ben does go down with an injury. Behind Gradkowski, the Steelers have a rookie in Landry Jones, who they will develop for the next few seasons. Steelers fans hope that Ben stays healthy for the entire season, but if he doesn’t, at least the Steelers have a guy behind him who can throw the ball more than ten yards downfield.
Players In Camp: Le’Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Baron Batch, Curtis McNeal, Will Johnson (FB)
The Steelers drafted Le’Veon Bell to be the starting running back, and he should become an all-around back for the team. I have always been a fan of Jonathan Dwyer, and I didn’t think he did a bad job as the starter in 2012. With a healthy offensive line, I think the team would have been fine with him as the starter. Isaac Redman is the perfect backup running back to have on any team. A hard-working, hard-running, good-blocking back who serves as a decent receiving threat and puts his heart into every snap he’s on the field for. LaRod Stephens-Howling is an under the radar signing by the Steelers, and he will slot in nicely as the third down back and will probably return kicks.
If for whatever reason the team cuts Dwyer or Redman down the road, Baron Batch is a nice fourth running back to have on the roster.
Will Johnson had a solid year at fullback for the team, and he will only get better going forward as he gains experience. The only thing that keeps this grade at a B+ and not an A is the fact that Bell is a rookie.
Players In Camp: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Paulson, David Johnson, Peter Tuitupou, Jaime McCoy
Let me say that if Heath Miller was healthy, this grade would be a solid A for the position. Miller is one of the most underrated players in the entire league, and when healthy, he is a great player. Behind Miller, the Steelers brought back Matt Spaeth, who if anything will bring his blocking ability to the team. David Paulson stuck on the roster his entire rookie season in 2012 and now will have to prove his game has developed to keep his spot. Paulson is a good receiver but needs to improve his blocking.
Then you have David Johnson, who missed all of 2012 due to injury, and unlike Paulson, can block but will need to prove he has developed as a receiver. This position really just comes down to the health of Miller because with him the team should have a solid unit.
Players In Camp: Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, Plaxico Burress, David Gilreath, Justin Brown, Reggie Dunn, J.D. Woods, Derek Moye, Kashif Moore
The only reason I have this grade as high as I do is because the Steelers do have a solid, top four receivers. Antonio Brown will be the number one receiver and Emmanuel Sanders will start opposite him. Though I think there will be a mini competition between Jerricho Cotchery and Markus Wheaton, Cotchery should win that battle and be the No. 3 guy. Wheaton is a nice, young option to have as the fourth receiver, and he could move up the depth chart during the season. After these four, however, there are nothing but question marks.
Plaxico Burress has height and experience, but he is older and as the fifth receiver, he wouldn't contribute at all on special teams. David Gilreath has much to prove as a receiver and will be in competition to be a returner as well. The rest of the guys in camp will need to show up big to move up and earn a roster spot over Burress and Gilreath. In the end though, the team may not have much depth however, four out of their five or six spots for the position are solid.
Players In Camp: Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Kelvin Beachum, Mike Golic Jr., John Malecki, Mike Farrell, Nik Embernate, Joe Madson, Justin Cheadle, Christopher Hubbard, Joe Long, Guy Whimper
The Steelers obviously have a great young center in Maurkice Pouncey and an underrated guard in Ramon Foster. Every other position on the line goes into camp with question marks. David DeCastro missed most of his rookie season because of injury after being highly touted out of college. The Steelers will be relying on Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams to lock down on the outside at tackle. If this group stays healthy, I feel they can become a very good unit.
The problem here is depth. The Steelers only real backup at every offensive line position is Kelvin Beachum. Behind Beachum are just a bunch of young guys fighting for roster spots. I really like the guys they brought in like Golic Jr., Madson, Embernate and Farrell however, none can be relied on at this point. Let’s just say that the team is in trouble if we get to a point that Guy Whimper is in the game.
Players In Camp: Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Al Woods, Alameda Ta’amu, Hebron Fangupo, Nick Williams, Cordian Hagans, Brian Arnfelt, Omar Hunter
Other than Brett Keisel, the defensive line is full of guys looking to prove themselves in 2013. I have defended Ziggy Hood for his entire career and now it is time for him to step up and prove he is worth a second contract. Behind these guys at defensive end is Cameron Heyward waiting for his opportunity. Heyward should be given more of a shot this year to get on the field and show what he can do.
Though I think Steve McLendon will be fine as the starting nose tackle, he still needs to prove that this season. Al Woods is a solid backup at defensive end and has even worked at nose this offseason. Alameda Ta’amu, Hebron Fangupo and Nick Williams will all have a chance to win a roster spot, but none will be counted on in 2013.
Players In Camp: LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Adrian Robinson, Chris Carter, Alan Baxter, Terence Garvin
The Steelers ability to get to quarterback will mostly rest on this unit. LaMarr Woodley will need to prove that he is actually in shape and able to get back to what he was earlier in his career. With James Harrison gone, Jason Worilds gets his chance to start in his contract season. The Steelers also used their first-round pick on sack specialist Jarvis Jones.
Though rookies have a hard time contributing for the Steelers on defense, I see Jones being used in special packages to take advantage of his pass rushing ability.
Adrian Robinson has flashed potential and will be given a chance to compete along with Chris Carter for the other backup outside linebacker position. This group, headed by Woodley, should be fine in 2013 and barring injury, the Steelers shouldn’t have the same pass rushing problem they had last year.
Players In Camp: Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Brian Rolle, Marshall McFadden, Kion Wilson, Stevenson Sylvester
Lawrence Timmons is an underrated star in the NFL, and I definitely don’t see him slowing down in 2013. Larry Foote did a solid job in 2012 as the starter, and he should be much of the same for this season.
I can’t wait to see how rookie Vince Williams looks in camp, and at this point, I have him as the top backup. Brian Rolle and Marshall McFadden will also be in this competition for probably one or two roster spots. One of these young guys could step up and prove to be good depth for the position, but we don’t know that yet.
Players In Camp: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian, Terry Hawthorne, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Isaiah Green, Nigel Malone
Though Ike Taylor had a rough start to the 2012 season, we all know what we’ll get from the veteran cornerback. Cortez Allen looks like a potential great playmaker for the team, but we will see how he does as the full-time starter. William Gay is inconsistent, though as the third corner, he should be a good addition by the team this offseason.
After these three guys, there will be a competition for two roster spots. Terry Hawthorne should be a lock for one spot, which will set up Curtis Brown to step up and earn his spot on the team. Though I see the five guys I have here as the guys making the roster, the team has a good group of young guys in Josh Victorian, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Isaiah Green developing as well.
Players In Camp: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Robert Golden, Shamarko Thomas, DaMon Cromartie-Smith, Ross Ventrone
Yeah, we all know that Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are getting up there in age, but when healthy, they are one of the best safety tandems in the league. The only question here is whether or not Polamalu can stay healthy for the entire season.
Behind Clark and Polamalu is Robert Golden, who got good experience last season as a rookie and should be better this year. Shamarko Thomas was drafted by the team this year to develop and become a starter down the road as well. I really like Golden and Thomas as the future at the position, but we all know the team is just a lot better when Polamalu is healthy. Let’s just hope he can in 2013.
Players In Camp: Shaun Suisham, Danny Hrapmann, Greg Warren, Luke Ingram, Drew Butler, Brian Moorman
Can Shaun Suisham build on his great 2012 season? Who knows, but going into camp, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Greg Warren will be in a competition, but I don’t see him losing his job to Luke Ingram.
The interesting battle will be Drew Butler against Brian Moorman. Butler was decent but not great as a rookie, and he will need to show consistency in camp to stay ahead of Moorman. Either way, the Steelers seem to be solid in this area going into this season.