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The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: James Conner

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/12/2020 - 12:30pm
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Breaking down every player one-by-one alphabetically on the Steelers current 90-man roster

Part 19 of our 90-part series— assuming the roster does not change before we are complete— which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

He’s from [near] Pittsburgh, he went to Pitt. and now he’s your Pittsburgh Steelers starting RB:

James Conner

Position: RB
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 233 lbs
College: Pittsburgh
Draft: 3rd round, 105rth Overall in 2017

2019 stats (Notre Dame)

116 Attempts
464 Rushing Yards
7 Total TDs
34 Receptions
251 Receiving yards

Contract remaining

Expires in 2020

$1,001,572 salary cap number (0.5% of total cap)

$176,572 dead money

$825,000 cap savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Lock. James Conner will again shoulder the load for the Steelers. The coaching staff has shown that when Conner is healthy, he will get the overwhelming amount of the backfield snaps. I fully expect the Pitt alum to start any game he’s healthy enough to play in the entire season.

2020 projection

Any time anyone writes about James Conner, the biggest concern brought up is his health. Having missed 11 games in his first three seasons, it’s definitely fair to question whether he’ll be able to make it through a full schedule. Considering the frequency the running back position misses due to injury, I would predict Conner will have to sit out at least a game or two in 2020.

That being said, the return of Big Ben and with how teams will try to defend the Steelers passing attack, I'd expect Conner to see some favorable defensive fronts to run against in 2020.

Projected stats:

12 Games
198 Attempts
910 Rushing Yards
7 Total TDs
43 Receptions
313 Receiving yards

Summary

2020 is a very big season for James Conner. It is a contract year, and it’s quite possibly the last season where he plays his home games in Pennsylvania. Conner recently said it would be hard to leave Pittsburgh, so he just might take a team-friendly deal and line up on the shores of the three rivers for another go-round.

Steelers’ RB James Conner, whose contract is up after this season, said it would be hard to leave Pittsburgh.

https://t.co/L1auFqRAo9

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 19, 2020 Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kameron Canaday
Chase Claypool
Josiah Coatney

The 2020 Steelers rank among the top of the NFL in terms of continuity

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/12/2020 - 11:11am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With shortened offseason team activities, retaining many of the same players from the previous year could mean more this season than in years past

With every NFL team facing concerns over preparation for the 2020 season due to lack of offseason gatherings, teams who have the least amount of turnover from the 2019 season will begin the year with somewhat of an advantage. Due to this fact, ESPN has compiled the continuity rating for all 32 NFL teams.

The way ESPN determined their continuity the rating was by the percentages of snaps in 2019 taken by players who are still on the team’s roster going in to 2020. Furthermore, a breakdown for both offense and defense was done while also looking at the number of starters to return as well as coaches.

For the Steelers, they ranked 5th overall with 82.4% of snaps taken in 2019 being by players still with the team. For offense, the Steelers ranked 12th with 80.1% while on defense they ranked 4th with 84.4%.

Here is a complete breakdown of the data by ESPN with an analysis of the Steelers written by reporter Brooke Pryor.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers: 82.4% snaps returning

Offensive snaps returning: 80.1% (12th)

Defensive snaps returning: 84.4% (4th)

Starters returning: 23 (10 offense, 10 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 11 of 13

Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Randy Fichtner, OC; Keith Butler, DC; Danny Smith, ST)

Starting QB: Ben Roethlisberger, 17th year

Head coach: Mike Tomlin, 14th year (133-74-1)

What it means: Not much is changing for the Steelers entering 2020 — and that’s mostly a good thing. Returning the bulk of the defense is key for the Steelers to end their brief playoff drought, and Roethlisberger’s return should bolster an offense that was stagnant at times in his absence. The Steelers have new faces on the coaching staff in quarterbacks coach Matt Canada and wide receiver coach Ike Hilliard, but they’ll be working with mostly veteran position groups. — Brooke Pryor

The teams are ranked ahead of the Steelers overall were the Buffalo Bills (88.0%), the Kansas City Chiefs (84.7%), the Indianapolis Colts (82.7%), and the San Francisco 49ers (82.6%). These teams along with the Steelers were the only ones who retained more than 80% of the snaps from the previous year.

When it comes to the defense, the three teams ahead of the Steelers were the San Francisco 49ers (88.3%), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (86.9%), and the Kansas City Chiefs (84.9%).

Of the teams ranked ahead of the Steelers overall, only two of them are on the schedule this season. The Steelers will face the Bills in Buffalo in Week 14 while they will host the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16. With both games falling in December, continuity heading into the season will not be as much of a factor.

As for the teams the Steelers face early in the season, the Steelers Week 1 opponent in the New York Giants placed 31st at 66.1%. Additionally, they will have a first your head coach. The Steelers Week 2 opponent— the Denver Broncos— placed 13th with 75.7%. The Steelers Week 3 match up with the Houston Texans will bring the team who finished just behind the Steelers in 6th place with 79.5%. Rounding out the first quarter of the season is the Steelers Week 4 matchup in Tennessee against the Titans with a team which retained 74.9% of their snaps from 2019 which ranked 15th in the NFL.

Although continuity does not reflect the quality of play, it is beneficial for teams to have a familiarity with each other, especially in this tumultuous 2020 offseason. As intriguing as these numbers are, what will be more important will be the Steelers achieving victories on the field of play.

The entire breakdown for all 32 teams can be viewed HERE.

The conditions appear optimal for a breakout season for Steelers WR Diontae Johnson

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/12/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Hopefully watching Ben Roethlisberger completing passes all over the field to Diontae Johnson this season will create plenty of new Steelers memories to cherish.

The statement I am about to make is very difficult for this diehard Steelers fan. I miss Antonio Brown. Not all the drama, mind you, just his brilliance on the football field.

The Ben/AB dynamic duo will go down as one of the most productive combos in NFL history. Their numbers are staggering. The pairing resulted in a multitude of unforgettable memories for all of Steelers Nation. Sadly, all their accomplishments failed to add a single Lombardi Trophy to the already loaded trophy case. Worse still, a legacy was forever tarnished and a record-setting opportunity lost.

Last season's offensive struggles did nothing to help rid me of the memories of AB, both good and bad. If anything, watching Steelers WR Diontae Johnson have a truly impressive rookie season, especially considering the subpar level of quarterback play all year, all seemed strangely familiar. It shouldn't have been a surprise in any way, seeing how I called him a AB clone in my Grading the Pick article after his selection.

In all honesty, I was far from pleased with Johnson's selection. I felt he would have been available in a later round, and I wanted the Steelers to draft a receiver with length, long an item on Ben's wish list. Thankfully, I was wrong and Johnson appears to have been an excellent selection.

Here is a excerpt from that article: "First l will focus on the good news. The Steelers know Diontae Johnson very well, seeing how they invited him in for that predraft visit. Johnson’s professional comparison is none other than Antonio Brown. Johnson is 5’10” and 183 lbs. which is almost identical to Brown. Johnson ran a 4.53 40 which is also similar to AB. Even Johnson’s strengths and weaknesses listed in his draft profile sound all to familiar. Excellent footwork and release off the line. Consistent hands and slippery in the open field. Kick return ability. Weaknesses include questionable top end speed and concentration lapses. Sound like anybody else we used to know?"

Diontae Johnson shares many of the same athletic abilities as his predecessor, but he is more than a AB clone. He utilizes his short area quickness and impressive acceleration to gain almost instantaneous separation. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Johnson achieved the highest average yards of separation per pass route for any receiver in the league. What does that statistic tell us? Basically, he was working open consistently on his pass routes. Imagine what he can do with a NFL caliber QB capable of getting him the ball.

Ben Roethlisberger has the ability to throw guys open, excelling at the back shoulder throws which are nearly impossible to defend. With Ben's absence last season, those type of throws were nowhere to be found. This ability should only add to Johnson's arsenal and make him that much harder to slow down. The Ben/DJ duo just needs reps to get their timing down.

I can see it now. Fourth quarter, two minute drill, tie game. Steelers have the ball, trying to get into field goal range. Facing a third and long near mid field, Ben takes the shotgun snap and fires a pinpoint pass about twenty yards downfield toward the sidelines. Johnson races toward the ball, extends for the hands catch with the simultaneous double tap. First down, Pittsburgh Steelers. A couple of running plays to milk the clock and position the ball for Boswell's liking. Boz makes the kick and the Steelers win the game.

I can see it playing out in my Black and Gold mind already. It is glorious. Another cherished memory for all of Steelers Nation, thanks to the heroic efforts of Big Ben and DJ.

The forgotten members of the legendary 1970’s Steelers team

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/12/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Do you remember all the guys from these teams?

The 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers were a team of legend. Brimming with Hall of Famers and some of the biggest names in football history. But only a handful of names still get tossed around now in the 2020’s.

On Offense, you always hear about Terry Bradshaw, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, and Mike Webster
And when it comes to the Steel Curtain, you’ll hear about Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, and Donnie Shell.

But there were still a ton of other, big time contributors, including some Pro-Bowlers who history just was not as kind too. Today we are going to take a dive back into history and look at some of the biggest contributors on those 70’s teams that don't quite get the same amount of love as some of their teammates.

Andy Russell 7x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro, 2x Super Bowl Champion
Linebacker ‘63, 1966-1976 Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Since Donnie Shell finally cracked the Hall of Fame, I would say the next man up from the 70’s defense yet to be enshrined in the Hall (other than the obvious choice of L.C. Greenwood) is Andy Russell.

He was one of the most dominant linebackers of his era, and was once named team MVP. The trio of Russell, Jack Lambert, and Jack Ham may just be the greatest gatherings of linebacking talent in league history.

I mean, come on! he went to 7 Pro-Bowls and was named team MVP while playing with the Steel Curtain. #RussellForHOF2021

J.T. Thomas 1x Pro Bowl, 4x Super Bowl Champion
Corner 1973-1981 Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Something which will be a bit of a theme for this list is just how many dominant defensive backs played for the 70’s Steelers who weren't named Donnie Shell or Mel Blount.

The first I'll mention is J.T. Thomas. Thomas, was Mel Blount’s running mate playing the opposite corner spot for nearly a decade.

Thomas was the Steelers first round pick in 1973, and would go on to win 4 Super Bowl’s, hauling in 20 interceptions, and played in a Pro-Bowl.

Mike Wagner 2x Pro Bowl, 2x All-Pro, 4x Super Bowl Champion
Safety 1971-1980 Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Our second defensive back of the list was originally drafted to be a wide receiver in 1971. Mike Wagner would quickly make the jump to patrolling the secondary and actually led the NFL in interceptions in 1973 with eight.

He would snag a total of 36 career interceptions, and scoop up another 12 fumbles, picking up all 4 Super Bowl Rings along the way.

Larry Brown 3x Pro Bowl, 4x Super Bowl Champion
Tight-End 1971-1976 / Right Tackle 1977-1984 Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Larry Brown is one of the few players to swap positions mid way through his career and become more successful in his second role.

Brown won 2 Super Bowls as a Tight-End and 2 as a Right Tackle. He caught 5 touchdown passes as a TE, but land on three Pro Bowl rosters as a Tackle.

Bennie Cunningham 2x Super Bowl Champion
Tight-End 1976-1985 Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Bennie Cunningham was actually the reason why I made this list. Doing some research for another article, I was watching some of Cunningham’s tape and I couldn't help but think about the contributions he made as the the third receiving option in the latter half of the 70’s Steelers run.

He would go on to play for an entire decade winning two titles, as well as catching 20 touchdown passes in 118 games.

Roy Gerela 2x Pro Bowl, 3x Super Bowl Champion, 1x PFW Golden Toe Award
Kicker 1971-1978 Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Steelers kicker for most of the 70’s. Gerela, was a popular name back then, despite being a kicker, and would have his own fanbase known as “Gerela’s Guerrillas.”

The Canadian Righty would kick his way through 3 Super Bowl winning teams, and is still third on the Steelers all-time points list.

Ronnie Shanklin 1x Pro Bowl, 1x Super Bowl Champion
Wide Receiver 1970-1974 Photo by James Flores /Getty Images

Shanklin was the Steelers #1 Wide-out before Swann and Stallworth were drafted in 1974. He would be named to a Pro Bowl in 1973, Won Super Bowl IX, and was on the field during the immaculate reception.

He would finish his career with 3,079 Yards, 168 Receptions, and 24 Touchdowns.

Glen Edwards 2x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, 2x Super Bowl Champion
Saftey 1971-1977 Photo by James Flores /Getty Images

The final member of this list is another DB Glen Edwards. Edwards was probably best remember by his play in both of his Super Bowl appearances in which Edwards made two spectacular plays. The first, in Super Bowl IX when he laid down the lumber on Vikings receiver John Gilliam, whom coughed up the football where it fell in to an awaiting Mel Blount's hands.

The other play came in Super Bowl X when Edwards picked off Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach in the end zone as time expired, Winning the game for the Steelers.

Edwards would finish his career with 39 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries, and contributed as a Punt/Kick returner.

What do you think? Could you recall all the names above? Did I forget any players who stick out in your mind? Let us know in the comments below!

Blocked by Ben Roethlisberger on Twitter? Don't worry, you're free to @ him again

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/12/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger no longer plans to be as elusive on social media as he is on the field.

There are only two kinds of people in this world: Those that have been blocked by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Twitter, and those who have not.

I should say, there used to be two kinds of people. As per PFT’s Mike Florio, starting Tuesday, Roethlisberger’s @__BigBen7 Twitter account, famous for blocking countless folks— many of whom had no idea why— started the process of unblocking people, an undertaking that could actually take a while, judging by the account’s alleged thin skin.

Funny thing is, Roethlisberger doesn’t even run his own account— it’s a woman named Erin Cox. (I know, we’re Facebook friends.) However, you would think he would have some influence on how it’s run, right? But hearing Roethlisberger speak of his account in 2017— and why everyone was always getting blocked— was like listening to him passively-aggressively discuss how he was so “helpless” to call a quarterback sneak under Todd Haley because “Coach Todd doesn’t have that play in his playbook.”

“There is an awesome, awesome woman, Erin [Cox] who runs my website, who does all that stuff for me,” Roethlisberger told Scott Van Pelt in 2017, courtesy of PFT. “And she is one of the nicest, sweetest people around. And if you say something bad, you’re gonna get blocked, I guess. I have nothing to do with it. That’s the funniest part.”

I never got blocked by Big Ben (Erin Cox), but that’s maybe because I always voted Roethlisberger number one in those annual polls asking who was the most handsome quarterback in the NFL. There was also the time I called him the Michael Jordan of quarterbacks in one of my articles.

Objectivity, that’s the key to getting on Roethlisberger’s good side.

As for the many who did get blocked? I have no idea. If you called him “Big Bum” all the time like my brother-in-law does (he’s a Broncos fan), you were probably going to get blocked.

If you had a habit of ranking Roethlisberger behind the likes of Tony Romo and Alex Smith in whatever quarterback poll you linked to Twitter, you were probably going to get blocked (you were lucky you didn’t get arrested, actually).

If you had a nasty habit of changing his last name around in a demeaning way, well, I hope you’re still blocked.

Other than that, it’s hard to say. But it looks like Roethlisberger, who has made a career out of dodging big, angry pass-rushers, is going to allow his protection to break down on social media.

Will he be just as elusive? He better be. After all, “He holds onto the damn ball too long!” is just a love tap on Twitter.

Podcast: Will fans pay more for social distancing at Heinz Field?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/12/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest episode of “The Steelers Preview” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-Gold from the week that was in Steeler Nation.

For fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers that ritualistically spend their Sundays at Heinz Field, there’s not much to keep them from their day at the ballfield. But with the world under the veil of COVID-19 there could be only a limited number of— or absolutely no— people watching Steelers games live. But the situation begs the question, would you pay more to have a complete and socially distant experience on the North Side in the Autumn months? Join Dave Schofield, Bryan Anthony Davis, and Michael Beck as they discuss this timely topic and more.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview. On this show Dave, Michael and BAD break down all things Steelers.

  • Will fans pay more for social distancing at Heinz Field?
  • Previewing 2020 draft pick Alex Highsmith
  • Steelers Trivia
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

If you haven’t heard, we have a YouTube channel, and the main reason for this is to increase the sound quality on our shows. But if you’re a visual learner you can watch the show below. Be sure to subscribe to our channel!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: How many teams can the AFC North send to the postseason?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/12/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. Unable to attend most player pro days and participating in the NFL’s first virtual draft, the Steelers keep pushing forward toward a return to football activities. Just because the Steelers are unable to hold their typical OTA’s doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at if the AFC North can get three teams to qualify for the playoffs.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The AFC North could pull off two wildcard teams in 2020

AFC North has the best chance to produce 3 playoff teams

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

I saw an interesting question posed by the folks at Pro Football Focus.

The football stats site asked, “Which AFC division, if any, is most likely to send three teams to the playoffs this season?”

Keep in mind, there are seven potential spots this year because of the new wild-card format.

Last year, the South and East sent two teams each. The New England Patriots (12-4) won the East. The Bills (10-6) were the top wild card. The Houston Texans (10-6) were the lowest-seeded division winner out of the South. The Tennessee Titans (9-7) were the second wild-card team and managed to win two road playoff games.

The top two clubs in the AFC — the 14-2 Baltimore Ravens (North) and the 12-4 Kansas City Chiefs (West) — won divisions where they were the only representatives in the bracket.

The Steelers (8-8) were the seventh team last year, which meant the first team out of the mix.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The Steelers have an impressive sack streak going on

Steelers’ pass rushers aiming for history

By: Jeff Hartman, DK Pittsburgh Sports

The Steelers’ defense is not a concern for the fan base heading into 2020. The addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Steven Nelson helped to solidify the secondary, an area of weakness which plagued the defense for years.

With the Steelers now sporting a top-tier defense, you would think the unit could sit back and just do what they do. After racking up 54 sacks, 20 interceptions, 18 fumble recoveries and 83 pass-defenses in 2019, this unit is determined to get better. How are they doing this? Players like T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Cam Heyward, Tyson Alualu, Ola Adeniyi and even Dan McCullers have solicited the guidance of pass-rushing guru Brandon Jordan.

Dupree has worked with Jordan in the past, and it begs the question whether this additional work had anything to do with Dupree’s breakout season last year, when he tallied 11.5 sacks. This year, Dupree decided to bring along some teammates to get additional work.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Several Steelers players have a lot to prove in the upcoming season

Boom or Bust: Steelers With High Expectations in 2020

By: Connor Deitrich

Heading into the 2020 season, there are high expectations for the whole Steelers team.

They return pretty much their whole elite defense from last year. On top of that, they get back their hall of fame quarterback. With a plethora of talented young players to pair with Ben Roethlisberger on offense, the unit should be light years better than it was in 2019. This all adds up to high expectations for a team coming off an 8-8 season. There are a few players specifically who have high expectations, some of whom will rise to the occasion and some who could bust.

Zach Banner: Boom

“#72 has reported as eligible” became a bit of a meme in 2019 and turned Zach Banner into a fan favorite in the process. Heading into 2020, though, Banner has his eyes set on much more than being the sixth offensive lineman who gets to run some routes. He has stated that his goal is to be a starting tackle this season. A strong training camp will likely earn Banner the starting spot at right tackle. Consider this a prediction. Zach Banner will win the starting job, perform well in 2020, and earn himself another contract in Pittsburgh after the season.

Despite being a meme, turning on Banner’s tape from 2019 won’t show you anything to laugh it. Instead, you’ll see a massive man with a mean streak and ridiculous strength. Most of his reps last year came in the run game, and there are numerous clips of Banner bullying opposing defenders. He’s a good athlete for a player with his absurd size, too. Banner has become a fan favorite on social media and is a good leader and person in the locker room as well. The team should be wanting to keep him in Pittsburgh for a long time. If he performs like he did last year as the full-time starter, they won’t have much of a choice. Zach Banner will meet his high expectations in 2020.

Ulysees Gilbert III: Bust

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed

What is the strongest position group on the Steelers?

Breaking down the emerging stars from the Steelers secondary

Matt Feiler and Mike Hilton sign their RFA tenders

The Steelers have several free agents on the offense after the 2020 season

Is Josiah Coatney a URFA who can make some noise in training camp?

  • Social Media Madness

Baby Christian is officially a member of #SteelersNation! Congratulations again to @Switz and Gabie! pic.twitter.com/VUdC5d3c0C

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 11, 2020

Our draft picks drawn ✍️@ChaseClaypool | @highsmith34 | @AnttMacc_ | @kdd7696 | @TwanDoee | @_KING_LOS__

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 11, 2020

Free shipping when you spend $50 through 6/12.

Shop now: https://t.co/vvI7xA1daY pic.twitter.com/y4W3DGYHwg

— Steelers Pro Shop (@SteelersShop) June 11, 2020

Report: Matt Feiler and Mike Hilton sign their 2nd round tenders with the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/11/2020 - 3:22pm
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers right tackle signs 4 days before NFL deadline.

Steelers offensive lineman Matt Feiler has reportedly signed his second round tender today, keeping him in Pittsburgh for the 2020 season. Feiler will earn $3.26 million for the 2020 season, and in 2021 will be an Unrestricted Free Agent.

Source says Steelers right tackle Matt Feiler is signing his second-round restricted free-agent tender.

— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) June 11, 2020

Matt Feiler played college football for Bloomsburg college, an NCAA Division II program. Undrafted out of college he joined the Houston Texans for 2014 and the start of the 2015 season. He was signed off waivers in September of 2015 by the Steelers and placed on their practice squad. Feiler would remain on the roster without seeing the field until 2017 when he earned a top back-up job and played in 5 games.

Matt Feiler took over the starting right tackle job in Week 8 of the 2018 season when the Steelers put Marcus Gilbert on injured reserve. The Steelers traded Marcus Gilbert to the Arizona Cardinals for a 6th round draft pick during the 2019 offseason, paving the way for Matt Feiler to start at right tackle for the entire 2019 season.

Feiler is expected to start at right tackle for the Steelers again in 2020. He also has experience playing guard, giving the team flexibility in assembling their best 5 players on the line. Feiler played guard in the Steelers Week 10 win over the Los Angeles Rams last season.

UPDATE: Mike Hilton has also signed his tender according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Steelers’ CB Mike Hilton signed his 2nd-round tender, per @RosenhausSports, though he still is hoping to get a contract extension done with the team before the season.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 11, 2020

Hilton went undrafted in 2016 out of Mississippi. Originally spending time in training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hilton was briefly signed to the New England Patriots practice squad. By the end of the season, Hilton was with the Steelers on their practice squad and signed a futures contract for the following offseason.

Since joining the Steelers, Hilton has become the teams slot cornerback and has been one of the league’s better players at the position over the last several seasons.

Before signing their tenders, Feiler and Hilton had the ability to negotiate a contract with another team. The Steelers would have had the option to match the contract to retain either player or receive a second-round draft pick in 2021 as compensation. An explanation of the various types of Restricted Free Agent tenders according to NFL.com is as follows:

Restricted free agent (RFA): A player with three accrued seasons and an expired contract. RFAs are free to negotiate and sign with any team, but their original team can offer them one of various qualifying offers (“tenders”) that come with the right of first refusal and/or draft-pick compensation. If the tender is withdrawn by a team, the RFA becomes an unrestricted free agent. In 2020, teams must submit these tenders before 4 p.m. ET on March 18. These amounts change annually; the following numbers are for the 2020 season. Players can choose either (a) or (b) regardless of which is greater in the applicable tenders below.

The RFA tenders are classified as follows:

First-round tender: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $4.641 million or (b) 110 percent of the player’s prior-year base salary. If the player’s original team decides not to match an offer sheet signed with another team, it is entitled to a first-round draft pick from the player’s new team. Unless received two days or later prior to the NFL draft, draft compensation for each tender is due in the same league year as the offer sheet is signed.

A signed offer sheet with a new team includes Principal Terms that must be matched by the prior club. However, if the new team includes terms that waive or limit its ability to designate the RFA a franchise player, the old team will not have to match this term if it has tendered the player with an offer worth $500,000 more than the first-round tender ($5.141 million in 2020).

Second-round tender: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $3.259 million or (b) 110 percent of the player’s prior-year base salary. Draft-choice compensation: second-round pick.

Original-round tender: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $2.133 million or (b) 110 percent of the player’s prior-year base salary. Draft-choice compensation: a pick in the round the player was originally drafted in.

Right-of-first-refusal tender: One-year contract worth $2.133 million. Team has the right to match any offer sheet signed with another team, but there is no draft compensation tied to this tender.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for all your Steelers news.

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Josiah Caotney

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/11/2020 - 12:30pm
Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Breaking down every player one-by-one alphabetically on the Steelers current 90-man roster

We are humming right along to part 18 of our 90-part series— assuming the roster does not change before we are complete— which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a look at 2020 UDFA:

Josiah Coatney

Position: DT
Height: 6’ 4”
Weight: 325 lbs
College: Mississippi
Draft: UDFA in 2020

2019 stats (Mississippi)

12 Games played
46 Total tackles
3 Sacks
1 Fumble recovery

Contract remaining

Expires in 2022

$615,000 salary cap number (0.31% of total cap)

$5,000 dead money

$610,000 cap savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Unlikely. It’s probably time for someone to bump big Dan McCullers off the roster, but I don't think Coatney is the guy to do it. The team is loaded at D-Line, even if Coatney explodes in camp he would only be a candidate for the practice squad at best. Just look at the names ahead of him on the depth chart:

Cameron Heyward
Stephon Tuitt
Tyson Alualu
Chris Wormley
Isaiah Buggs
Daniel McCullers
Carlos Davis
Henry Mondeaux
Cavon Walker

The Steelers carried only 6 D-Lineman into Week 1 a year ago. Davis, McCullers, Mondeaux, and Walker have the inside track to winning the final spot.

2020 projection

Coatney is still a talented D-Tackle, I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up on a teams practice squad in Pittsburgh or elsewhere.

Projected stats:

N/A

Summary

Coatney has a mountain to climb in-front of him, and only has minutes to get to the top. I suppose it’s possible that a helicopter appears, but how often does that actually happen? Keep an eye on him in the preseason, he’ll have a chance to fight for the practice squad.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kam Canaday
Chase Claypool

An Examination of Pittsburgh's 2021 Free Agents: Offense Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/11/2020 - 11:00am

Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Given the recent news that the NFL's salary cap could decrease next year, where do the Steelers stand in terms of players in need of new contracts?

Earlier this week, BTSC's Flip Fisher released an article describing the possibility that the NFL could lower each team's salary cap for the 2021 season based on total revenue from 2020. Given the uncertainty surrounding whether or not fans will be allowed to attend games this fall, the NFL could be in for a huge drop in revenue, and therefore a drop in the salary cap. This change could drastically impact the Steelers given their already limited salary cap space situation. With a slew of contracts set to expire after this season, and a minimal $13.4 million available in cap space, the Steelers are certainly going to have to make some difficult decisions about who to keep, and who to let walk. Today, we will examine the offensive side of the ball and who is likely to stick around past the end of the 2020 season.

If we focus only on players likely to make the 53 man roster come September, the Steelers have six offensive players with contracts set to expire next year. These include Alejandro Villanueva, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, Ryan Switzer, Matt Feiler, and Zach Banner. While some of these players are sure to command much higher salaries than others, they will all be looking a number high enough to make a dent in the Steelers salary cap. Let's take a look at each player.

Alejandro Villanueva

Villanueva is entering his final year of a 4 year, $24 million deal. While 2019 marked the first time since 2016 he missed the Pro Bowl, he still posted a solid year in which he started all 16 games and allowed just 2 sacks. Left tackle is a highly sought after position in the NFL, and given Villanueva's skill set and resume, it seems extremely unlikely that the Steelers will be able to resign him for as little as $6 million per year (his current salary). On the other hand, at age 31, Big Al won't be looking for anything near the $22 million per year contract that Laremy Tunsil recently received from the Texans. Instead, he will likely be seeking something in the mid to low teens. Whether or not the Steelers decide to pay Villanueva will likely hinge upon the development of young players like Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor. If these young players fall short of expectations, the Steelers may be forced to pay Villanueva to protect an aging Ben Roethlisberger.

JuJu Smith-Schuster

The status of JuJu's contract is something that has already been heavily discussed throughout the football world. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and is scheduled to make just over $1 million this season. The talented young wideout is going to be looking for a huge deal that makes him one of the highest paid receivers in the league. Looking around the NFL, a new deal would likely have him earning somewhere between $15 million and $20 million per year, depending on how he performs this season. JuJu is beloved throughout the city of Pittsburgh, and has stated on numerous occasions that he would like to stay here throughout his career, but with young players like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool on much cheaper deals, it is unclear whether the Steelers will be willing to break the bank to keep him. If he can return to his 2018 form, it would be hard to let the young superstar walk away. But if last year's struggles stick around, Smith-Schuster may need to take a team friendly deal in order to stay in Pittsburgh.

James Conner

Similar to Smith-Schuster, Conner is entering the last year of his rookie deal. He is slotted to make about $800,000 this season, and is preparing to enter a loaded running back free agent class that includes Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette, and Joe Mixon among many others. Given Conner's connections to the city of Pittsburgh, it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that he could take a team friendly deal in the range of $6-$8 million per year. It's not likely that the Steelers would break the bank and pay Conner much more than that given their handling of the Le'Veon Bell situation just two years ago. Still, keeping Conner around would ensure a veteran presence in the backfield while also giving Steelers Nation a feel good story to continue rooting for. If Conner can stay healthy in 2020, and is willing to play for a reasonable salary, his wishes of staying in Pittsburgh may just come true.

Ryan Switzer

The next three players on this list do not require as much attention because they will not be looking for salaries quite as high, but they are still worth giving a look. It's unclear whether Switzer will make the 53-man roster, but assuming he does, 2020 will be the final year on his rookie deal. After Diontae Johnson lit up the NFL with his special teams play late last season, Switzer was left without a clear role on the team. However, his close rapport with Big Ben could earn him a chance to stay in Pittsburgh as long as it is at a low price. It wouldn't be a shock to see him sign a 1 or 2 year low risk extension this offseason, but given all the young talent at the wide receiver position, Switzer may have to find a new home in 2021.

Matt Feiler

Feiler has impressed just about every time he has gotten the chance to get on the field. After signing a one year deal this past offseason worth just over $3 million, the O-lineman will be looking for a new contract in 2021. The Steelers offensive line is aging quickly, and keeping around the 27 year old Feiler for a few more years could help to fill some of the holes left by the departures of Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, and potentially Alejandro Villanueva. Again, it would have to be at a reasonable price, because as we saw this offseason with B. J. Finney, the Steelers are not likely to shell out a huge contract to a player in their late 20s when they have other young stars to pay.

Zach Banner

Last, but certainly not least, is 26 year old OT Zach Banner. Used primarily in jumbo packages last year, Banner is likely to see an increase in snaps this season due to the departure of a few veteran lineman. Similar to Feiler, Banner is currently on a one year deal, and if he can take the next step and prove that he can be a reliable starter on Pittsburgh's offensive line, there is reason to believe Number 72 will continue reporting as eligible in 2021 and beyond.

Conclusions

How the Steelers handle this group of free agents will depend largely upon the changes to the salary cap, and the performance of these individuals this season. While it seems unlikely that all of these players will be able to stick around, one can only hope GM Kevin Colbert can work some magic and keep as many of them as possible.

Who do you think will be extended next offseason? And who do you think will walk in free agency? Make sure you vote in the poll and give your thoughts in the comments below.

The NHL, NBA and MLB are all running out of time to steal the spotlight away from the NFL

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/11/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NFL is far and away the most popular sports league in America. But with the pandemic-induced sports shutdown in full-swing since mid-March, there has been an opening for the NHL, NBA and/or MLB to swoop in and steal some fans away. Sadly for them, they’re still trying to find a way to get back in action, while the NFL is preparing to air regularly scheduled programming this fall.

As we inch closer and closer to mid-June, we’re also inching closer and closer to the start of NFL training camp.

That’s right, while the sports world has been shut down for quite a while due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the NFL has been given the gift of time. In fact, other than a draft full of live fans, the league has yet to surrender much to COVID-19, save for offseason workouts and possibly full stadiums come the fall— and even that has yet to be conceded.

As for the other leagues? They’re still trying to figure things out. The NHL and NBA were shut down in mid-March, just weeks before the start of their postseasons, while Major League Baseball’s spring training was interrupted in mid-stretching session.

Will any of those leagues actually re-start? There’s still hope the NHL and NBA can have their postseasons— as non-traditional as they may be. Unfortunately, baseball owners and their players have been engaged in an unflattering money war that may ultimately snuff out any hopes of a regular season and postseason.

Too bad for all three, really. While safety has to be the top priority when deciding whether or not to resume sports, just think of how welcoming fans would be to even one league playing at this moment.

Imagine the NHL having the spotlight all to itself right now— of the four major professional sports leagues in America, the NHL is a distant fourth (sixth, if you throw in major college sports). You know how long it’s been since I truly cared about hockey? Over a decade, and even then it was only because I had a girlfriend who was super into the Penguins. My gosh, I love sports so much, I miss sports so much, I can easily envision myself sitting down right now to some exciting Stanley Cup playoff action, with or without the Penguins, with or without fans in attendance.

That’s how hungry I am for sports.

I would imagine countless other fans around the country are just as hungry. How awesome would it be for the NHL to gain new supporters in many of the proverbial flyover states that normally don’t pay much attention to hockey? Picture some seven-year old kid in, I don’t know, Topeka, Kansas, suddenly becoming enthralled with the abilities of Penguins star center, Sidney Crosby, as he watches No. 87 do his thing night after night on national television. Most people around the country probably couldn’t pick Crosby— only the best hockey player in the entire universe— out of a lineup. This could be a great opportunity for NHL stars to have center stage all to themselves and become actual household names in the country they spend most of their time playing in.

What about the NBA? Of all the major professional sports leagues not named the NFL, the NBA has the least to worry about in terms of popularity. LeBron James and Steph Curry are household names everywhere— even in “We don’t give a damn about basketball!” Pittsburgh, Pa. What if the NBA was all my fellow Pittsburghers could watch between now and the end of summer? How would the ratings be? Would Pittsburgh suddenly start clamoring for an NBA team?

You just never know who will fall in love with you when you’re the only game in town.

And, of course, there’s baseball, a sport America has been quite bored with for decades. In an era where most people grow impatient when it takes longer than four seconds to pull something up on their smartphones, baseball does itself no favors with multiple pitching changes, seventh-inning stretches and four-hour games.

This could be a great time to train sports fans to appreciate the slower nature of the game of baseball. While MLB is tweaking things to try and speed things up, baseball will always be inherently slower— that's its essence; you don’t have to have action every second of the game. Sometimes the anticipation of a big pitch is almost as exciting as the pitch itself.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like any of these leagues will be able to truly steal the spotlight away from the NFL, a league that still expects to air regularly scheduled programming this fall.

I know what you’re going to say, those other sports overlap with football each and every year. Therefore, if the NFL didn’t lose fans to them then, why would they now, even amid a pandemic?

Ever binge-watch a program on one of those streaming services? You just can’t stop watching, right? And it doesn’t matter what your world was like before you found this show. You must consume each episode until you get to the end (or at least the end of the latest season). That’s how it was for me and Ozark a while back. I didn’t care about any other show. I didn’t care as much about the Steelers. I didn’t even care all that much about going outside (it helped that I wasn’t allowed).

The NHL, NBA and/or MLB could have hooked some sports fanatics into binge-watching their product by now.

Instead, they were all compromised, while the fans got to see the NFL conduct its business about as close to normal as possible.

When NFL training camps start up in about six weeks or so, it’s going to be hard to get anyone to care about anything else in a sporting sense.

Just like always.

Film Room: The Evolution of the 2019 Steelers secondary, Part 3: The stars emerge

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/11/2020 - 7:45am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Minkah Fitzpatrick and the Steelers defense dominate the middle of the season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2019 bye week with a 2-4 record, and were a very different team than the one that started the season. Ben Roethlisberger was on Injured Reserve, their big free agent WR, Donte Moncrief, had played his way off the field, JuJu Smith-Schuster was playing hurt, Ryan Switzer was relegated to returns only. Down their QB and all three of their top WRs from the start of the season, and the run game trying to run against stacked boxes with no FB, the Steelers were in trouble.

The Steelers would come out of the bye week against the Miami Dolphins and give up a turnover and two TDs in the first quarter. After that quarter, though, the Steelers defense took over. The rest of that game and the next two games would see 8 turnovers forced on 23 drives (34.7%). The defense would score two TDs, while giving up 3 TDs and 2 FGs for a 14-25 score just from the defense.

The Steelers would go 3-0 in those games, improving to a 5-4 record, putting them in position for a playoff run.

This film room is going to look more in depth at three of the Steelers defensive backs, and the traits they brought that allowed them to lead the team back into playoff contention.

Terrell Edmunds’ versatility is key

Before we get to Minkah Fitzpatrick we need to talk about his sidekick in the secondary, the Ryan Clark to Fitzpatrick’s Troy Polamalu— Terrell Edmunds.

Terrell Edmunds is a “jack of all trades, master of none” type of player, he’s not an elite defender in any specific area, but he’s good at a whole lot of things, with very few weaknesses, and his elite athleticism (97th percentile for safeties) allows him to move around a lot, even after the snap.

Week 8, 3rd quarter, 2:27 Terrell Edmunds is up by the line, dropping as the play starts.

This is something the Steelers did a good bit, starting Edmunds up near the line, and then dropping him right before the snap into deep zone.

I picked this one because it also shows how well Fitzpatrick and Edmunds were playing off each other at this point, with Edmunds dropping smoothly behind Minkah Fitzpatrick as Fitzpatrick crashes to make the tackle. That kind of movement, playing off each other starts showing up more after the bye week.

Week 8, 1st quarter, 7:44 Terrell Edmunds is the deep safety to the top of the screen.

The Steelers run a cover-6 here, with man to the wide side of the field and zone to the boundary. But this time Edmunds steps up to cover the inside while Haden defends the deep zone. As the play breaks down and Jacoby Brissett runs, Edmunds is there to meet him and limit the yards gained.

Being able to play like a LB while also being a solid deep safety, and having the athleticism to transition in play, is a huge benefit to a defense that wants to disguise what it is doing.

Terrell Edmunds was the player the Steelers moved the most at the snap, and it was a big part of how they disguised plays.

Some of you are going to disagree with me calling Edmunds a solid deep safety. Edmunds has a reputation for being terrible at deep zone, and while I will state it is not his best usage, he’s not necessarily bad at it.

Week 10, 4th quarter, 1:30. Terrell Edmunds is the deep safety to the bottom of the screen.

Josh Reynolds beats Joe Haden deep, but Edmunds breaks up the pass to prevent a TD.

Here’s a better angle of the breakup.

Terrell Edmunds has the athleticism to play trail like this, and he does a solid job reading the receiver and getting his hands in the way of the catch.

Edmunds is not good at reading the ball in the air, not prohibitively bad, but it is a weakness. You see it when he mistimes contact with a receiver, and when he goes for interceptions. He’s much better covering the WR and playing their hands/eyes.

His strong man-cover skills are a big asset when you pair it with his size and strength.

Week 9, 4th quarter, 8:43. Terrell Edmunds is the slot DB to the bottom of the screen.

After scoring the go ahead touchdown, the Colts go for two, hoping to extend their lead to three points. Jack Doyle gets a good push on Edmunds and you can see Edmunds stumble, but he recovers and is able to knock the pass away to preserve the one-point game. The Steelers would win the game 26-24, so keeping those two points off the board was incredibly important in the Steelers’ win.

Terrell Edmunds isn’t a star, and may never be one, but his value to the Steelers as a guy who can play anywhere on the field and take on any responsibility you can give him makes him a perfect piece for a defense that wants to disguise what they are doing, and the perfect compliment for a play maker like Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Minkah Fitzpatrick is a super star

In the second part of this film series I showed how Minkah Fitzpatrick was less of a play maker when he was the deepest defender in coverage. That’s because teams would throw underneath him, teams didn’t throw near him when he was the deep safety very often.

Week 8, 3rd quarter, 11:14. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the deep safety.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of those quarterbacks who is going to chuck an ill-advised deep ball a couple times a game. This time he throws at Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Minkah plays center field beautifully for the interception.

Note Terrell Edmunds’ closing speed to the ball. If Minkah isn’t there, Edmunds would have been there to break up the pass, but the odds of an interception would be a lot lower.

Week 9, 2nd quarter, 2:36. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the deep safety.

This is Fitzpatrick’s pick-6 against the Colts. Minkah Fitzpatrick makes it look easy, but this is an incredible play.

Here’s a look right before the QB starts to throw the ball.

The yellow arrow is pointing to where the pass will go. Jack Doyle is passing Mike Hilton, the WR outside will keep Haden occupied, and Minkah Fitzpatrick is 9-10 yards away from the spot he needs to be to make a play on the ball.

Joe Haden stated he thought he had given up a TD because he didn’t get the ball when he lunged at Doyle in the end zone. Minkah Fitzpatrick shouldn’t have been able to get there.

Watch Minkah Fitzpatrick at the top of the screen, look at his feet and the moment he breaks on the ball.

He reads the pass incredibly fast, moving before the throw, and bursts toward the ball. Fitzpatrick has elite read and react speed, his footwork is efficient and he explodes to the play.

He would show off his play reading the next week in an even better, but nowhere near as impactful play.

Week 10, 3rd quarter, 0:19. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the deep safety to the top of the screen.

This whole play is designed to get Cooper Kupp open underneath for some easy yards. But Minkah Fitzpatrick comes from the other side of the field, navigating traffic to break up the catch.

This play is Troy-esque. He sees the play almost instantly and flies to where the ball will end up.

The bye week gave the Steelers time to get Minkah Fitzpatrick better integrated into the defense, and the result was 4 interceptions, 5 passes defended and a fumble recovery in the next three games, with 2 touchdowns.

Starting in Cleveland in Week 11, opponents would avoid Minkah Fitzpatrick. His stats disappeared, but for those three weeks Minkah Fitzpatrick dominated the stat sheets.

Joe Haden’s renaissance

Through 8 games and 28 minutes of the 2019 season, Joe Haden had four passes defended and 0 interceptions. The Steelers opponents had been targeting Steven Nelson a lot, attacking him with a lot of underneath and in-cutting routes. Minkah Fitzpatrick jumping those in-cutting routes led teams to target Joe Haden more, averaging three more targets per game in weeks 8-13 than in weeks 3-6.

In Week 10 Joe Haden would start making them pay for it.

Week 10, 2nd quarter, 1:44. Joe Haden is the CB to the bottom of the screen.

This is Haden’s 5th pass defended of the season. He would get 4 more in this game, including 2 turnover plays.

Week 10, 3rd quarter, 13:34. Joe Haden is the CB to the top of the screen.

When Minkah Fitzpatrick steps up to cover the in-route, Devin Bush has to to defend a deep route with no safety help. But Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick have switched here, and Haden is there to make the interception.

Week 10, 4th quarter, 0:30. Joe Haden is the CB to the bottom of the screen.

Here Haden tips the pass and Minkah Fitzpatrick comes away with the football.

If you watch Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick on this play, you can see Edmunds playing forward with Fitzpatrick deep to start before they switch. The quarterback is looking to Edmunds side, and when he turns to target Fitzpatrick’s side, Edmunds steps back to cover deep as Minkah steps forward, ready to attack the play. Also notice Minkah Fitzpatrick’s positioning as he comes forward. Fitzpatrick is a fluid mover who reads the flow of the offense at an incredibly high level. It pays off with an interception off the tipped ball on this play.

This was Minkah Fitzpatrick’s last interception of the 2019 season. Minkah came into the game with 4 interceptions and picked up his 5th. Joe Haden came into the game with 0 interceptions and picked up his first, as he would end the season with 5.

The communication between the safeties behind Haden allowed him to be far more aggressive than he has at any time with the Steelers, and Haden would record 5 interceptions and 13 passes defended in the second half of the season.

The takeaway

The Steelers recorded 20 interceptions in 2019. The last two seasons with 20+ interceptions were 2010 and 2008.

The Steelers got 10 of those interceptions from Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick, while Steven Nelson and Terrell Edmunds combined for 1. But while Haden and Fitzpatrick collected the stats, Nelson and Edmunds played important roles in setting the stage for those interceptions. Nelson’s deep coverage and ability to lock down deep routes 1v1 and Edmunds’ versatility allowed the Steelers to do a lot of different things on defense while putting Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick in position to play to their strengths and make the splash plays.

Next up in this film room series we’ll look at both Cleveland games as well as the second Cincinnati game, in the penultimate article on the evolution of the Steelers secondary in 2019.

Has cornerback become the best position group for the Steelers?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/11/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What was the weakest link for decades is now one of the NFL’s elite units

It has felt like an eternity since Rod Woodson was putting the clamps on wide receivers as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since his departure in 1997 the team never seemed to be able to replicate that level of cornerback play.

Ike Taylor was a good corner for a number of years but he was never a turnover machine, Deshea Townsend had a 4 year stretch of solid play, and Bryant McFadden played well when called upon. But with such dominant pass-rushers and safeties surrounding them, the mid-2000’s unit would never be considered the best on the team.

More recently the Steelers became an offensive juggernaut which would often be let down by their defense. More specifically, they would be let down by poor corner play, and stuck in an endless circle of Ross Cockrell, Antwon Blake, and Artie Burns type players. But in 2019 the defense once again became the teams top unit. Thanks in part to the Steelers corners.

The Steelers built this unit in an unconventional way— turning to the Free Agent market. Just check out this projected 2020 depth chart:

LCB
Joe Haden
Justin Layne

RCB
Steven Nelson
Trajan Bandy/Breon Borders

Slot CB
Mike Hilton
Cameron Sutton

*Flex player
Minkah Fitzpatrick

Joe Haden had a career year at the age of 30. He put up 5 picks, was 4th in the NFL for passes defended, and has showed no signs of slowing down.

Steven Nelson didn't allow a single touchdown reception a year ago, and is criminally underrated.

Mike Hilton, is arguably the best nickel corner in the game. He has the ability to step up into run, rush the quarterback, and blanket receivers.

Legitimately, the trio of Haden, Nelson, and Hilton could represent the club in the Pro Bowl. Furthermore, Minkah Fitzpatrick is still one of the best young safeties in the game, and has gone on record to say he’s willing to move around on the field which is only going to make this squad harder to play against in 2020.

The craziest part about all this is Justin Layne and Cam Sutton could probably start at corner on several NFL teams. It’s this kind of depth which can lead a team to a championship, and the Steelers are going to need each of them if they want to do anything in the playoffs.

What’s the hierarchy of the Steelers position groups? Here’s what my list looks like:

Corners —Top end stars and loaded top to bottom
Defensive Line —Hargrave will be missed, but Heyward and Tuitt are game-breakers when they’re on
Linebackers —Watt, Dupree, and Bush are stars. Can Williams play every down/is Gilbert ready?
Quarterbacks —They’ll go up or down depending on Ben’s health
Offensive Line —Aging unit full of some greats. They need to be better in 2020
Receivers —They have the highest ceiling but its dependent on a JuJu rebound
Safeties —Minkah Fitzpatrick is a beast, but they lack depth and questions still surround Edmunds
Running Backs --Too many question marks

What group do you think is the Steelers best unit? Make sure you vote in the poll and let us know in the comments below!

Podcast: Who is the Steelers all-time best draft pick?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/11/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest episode of “The Standard is the Standard” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-Gold from the week that was.

The Steelers have been drafting since they selected William Shakespeare third overall in the 1936 NFL. While “the bard of the burgh” was a short story, the Steelers hit in big quite a bit with their draft selections since. With names like Bullet Bill, Whizzer, Mean Joe, the Blonde Bomber and Hot Rod, the Steelers have a rich drafting tradition. But who is their finest all-time selection? That inquiry and more will be pondered on the latest episode in the BTSC family of podcasts. And it is always a good time to talk everything Steelers.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this week’s show, Lance Williams welcomes BTSC editor Dave Schofield into the mix this week to break down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Who is the Steelers all-time best draft pick?
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Lance and Dave of BTSC walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold on the flagship show.

If you haven’t heard, we have a YouTube channel, and the main reason for this is to increase the sound quality on our shows. But if you’re a visual learner you can watch the show below. Be sure to subscribe to our channel!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: Anthony McFarland adds breakout potential to the Steelers stable of running backs

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/11/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. Unable to attend most player pro days and participating in the NFL’s first virtual draft, the Steelers keep pushing forward toward a return to football activities. Just because the Steelers are unable to hold their typical OTA’s doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at the new player in the Steelers running back room.

Let’s get to the news:

Rookie Impact: Anthony McFarland Brings Big-Play Abilities to Steelers Backfield

By: Donnie Druin, Sports Illustrated

Rookie impact is a series previewing each Pittsburgh Steelers draftee and their potential impact for 2020 and beyond. For second-round pick Chase Claypool’s potential impact, click here. For third-round pick Alex Highsmith, click here. Today we continue our series with running back Anthony McFarland.

Player: Anthony McFarland

Position: Running Back

School: Maryland

Drafted: Round 4, Pick 124

The Pittsburgh Steelers backfield has been nothing short of a hot topic heading into 2020, as lead-back James Conner heads into a pivotal contract year with questions surrounding his health and ability to stay on the field. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was not shy about Pittsburgh addressing the backfield during the offseason, and followed through on his word after drafting Anthony McFarland in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

“Man, his talents speak for themselves” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on a Instagram live chat with Maryland coach Mike Locksley. “His stop-and-go quickness, his game-breaking ability in terms of his ability to make big plays, we’re excited about. We feel like we got some talent in the backfield, but we feel like he’s got a skill set that’s a little bit different than the guys that we got in our backfield in terms of his speed and open grass ability.”

Let’s evaluate McFarland’s short and long-term impact in Pittsburgh:

Immediate Impact

As long as James Conner is healthy, he will continue to be the lead back and receive a majority of the touches. If things go to plan for Conner and the rest of the Steelers offense, McFarland’s services may not be needed on a frequent basis. However, coach Tomlin was adamant during the same Instagram live chat that McFarland would get his opportunities.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The Steelers are still at the forefront when it comes to promoting diversity with NFL coaches

Steelers’ Art Rooney II part of QB coaching summit aimed at promoting diversity in NFL

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The NFL’s third annual Quarterback Coaching Summit will include the participation of Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II.

The summit, which is held in partnership with the Black College Football Hall of Fame, will be held June 22-23 in a virtual setting. Its aim is to build the coaching and personnel development pipeline and strengthen diversity across the NFL.

Rooney is chairman of the NFL’s workplace diversity committee, which last month instituted policies designed to increase employment opportunities for women and minorities in key management and coaching positions.

NFL and NCAA assistant coaches will participate in the two-day program. Among the other participants are Buffalo Bills president Kim Pegula, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator and former Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Bills assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Duck promotes Ben’s ‘2020 Revenge Tour’

By: Jeff Hartman, DK Pittsburgh Sports

When it comes to quarterback play, 2019 was a year to forget for the Steelers. Whether it was Mason Rudolph or Devlin “Duck” Hodges under center, neither could generate enough offense to see the team hit a 30-point total in any of their 16 games.

The team’s average of 18.1 points per game last season had them finish near the bottom of the league, 27th overall, and also had fans hoping and praying Ben Roethlisberger would be able to come back healthy.

Since the end of last season, Roethlisberger has received nothing but good reports from doctors, players and coaches alike. He’s shown he is working his way back to the field, and both Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have been glowing about the potential of Roethlisberger being back and better than ever.

Sure, we all need to see him actually get on a football field and make all the throws necessary to be considered the elite quarterback he was before his injury, but motivation will not be on short supply for Roethlisberger in 2020.

The media has written off Roethlisberger, and the Steelers’ offense was nothing to write home about. Just another unit with an aging quarterback and an offensive line getting long in the tooth. What is coming in 2020 for the Steelers’ opponents? According to Hodges, it will be the start of the Roethlisberger “Revenge Tour.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed

Roethlisberger to Ebron should be a big part of 2020 for the Steelers

Chase Claypool looks to have a strong rookie season

The 2020 preseason could be shortened by 2 games

Salary cap contraction is a real problem to be faced in 2021

Several of the Steelers position groups have high ranks going into the season

  • Social Media Madness

What's your favorite movie?

: https://t.co/7CmrgPZIZZ | @PALottery pic.twitter.com/5O8jriJose

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 10, 2020

Cam, Big Dan, Alualu, Ola and Dupree getting after it! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/2xMkdfTu65

— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) June 10, 2020

A bunch of Steelers players working out together. (Via Marcus Allen’s IG) #Steelers pic.twitter.com/ZkMSnVjZiD

— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) June 10, 2020

A way-too-early look at the 2021 NFL Draft: Interior Defensive Line

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 2:45pm
Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Which linemen could be donning the black and gold next year? Let’s look at the top defensive linemen Steeler fans should be watching this college football season.

From the second the 2020 draft came to a close, speculation had already started up for the 2021 class. So, in this spirit, here we are with an article series highlighting prospects who look to be this upcoming draft’s biggest stars.

And the season hasn’t even started yet.

Admittedly, “way too early” draft predictions are exactly what they’re titled: Way too early— and as a result, are very rarely, or perhaps never, accurate at all.

In this draft primer series, we won’t be mocking players to any teams, but rather looking at the top players at each position who could get drafted by the Steelers with their first few picks in 2021. Prospects such as Trevor Lawrence, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Fields, and Penei Sewell, who are all expected to be gone long before the Steelers are projeced to pick in the first round, will not be included.

The goal? Not to make any “hot take” predictions, but rather to look at some players that Steeler fans might want to watch a little closer than usual this college season.

Seventh in this series will be a position that clogs up running lanes and pressures the quarterback: interior defensive linemen. They are ranked in no particular order.

Marvin Wilson, DT #21, Florida State

2019 stats: 44 total tackes, 19 solo tackles, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble.

Height/Weight: 6’5”, 311 lbs.

Wilson is considered by most to be the top interior defensive lineman in this year’s class, and rightfully so. He is a powerful, sturdily-built interior force who is very athletic for his size. At 311 pounds, Wilson is incredibly mobile and is quite the pass-rusher. Five sacks doesn’t seem like a lot, but at the interior line position it’s quite the feat. Wilson is a strong run defender as well, with a nose for the football. In fact, he had four pass deflections last year.

Like most college linemen, both offensive and defensive, Wilson still needs to clean up his technique at times. The Draft Network described him as being more “powerful than explosive”, despite his strong athleticism. Wilson is a great prospect, but there’s always room for improvement.

Wilson decided to forgo the 2020 NFL Draft and return to school, which was a big surprise for many. He is at the top of his positional rankings by a long shot right now, and looks to continue improving this season.

Some notable articles about Marvin Wilson:

Marvin Wilson Draft Profile - The Draft Network

Florida State football, recruiting news: Does FSU have the best defensive lineman in football? - Tomahawk Nation

Jay Tufele, DT #78, USC

2019 stats: 42 total tackes, 22 solo tackles, 4.5 sacks, 0 forced fumbles.

Height/Weight: 6’3”, 305 lbs.

The rugby player turned defensive lineman enjoyed a great year as a member of the Trojans in 2019 with 4.5 sacks and a disruptive play style. Tufele is incredibly explosive off of the snap with a great first step. His strength and quickness makes a lethal combination. Like Marvin Wilson, he’s incredibly athletic for 300-plus pounds, even though he isn’t quite as powerful.

As part of an underrated defense entering the 2020 season, Tufele has a chance to really break out. He’s already considered to be a first-round pick by many draft pundits, with potential to move into the top 10 or 15 picks.

Some notable article about Jay Tufele:

Mel Kiper ranks USC DT Jay Tufele No. 22 in 2021 draft class - Trojans Wire

Tyler Vaughns, Jay Tufele say they’re returning to USC for 2020 season - LA Times

LaBryan Ray, DE #89, Alabama

2019 stats: 9 total tackes, 4 solo tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble.

Height/Weight: 6’5”, 292 lbs.

Ray will be a massive risk to whatever team selects him next year, but if he pans out he could be a major steal. Ray is talented, versatile lineman who was highly recruited coming out of high school. He was supposed to redshirt as a freshman, but injuries forced him to start in a few games in which he played fairly well.

He enjoyed a much better year as a sophomore, with 39 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, and showing great potential. However, his season was cut short as a junior due to injuries which limited his production and playing time. He was arrested for public intoxication as well, and was disciplined though the school.

Returning to Alabama as a senior was a wise choice for Ray, who looks to end his time in college both healthy and productive. A consistent, above-average showing should catapult the talented lineman into the first few rounds of the draft.

Some notable articles about LaBryan Ray:

Bama DL Ray out at least 6 weeks after surgery - ESPN

Alabama Football: Player profiles 2019 – LaBryan Ray - Bama Hammer

Darius Stills, DT #56, West Virginia

2019 stats: 46 total tackes, 31 solo tackles, 7 sacks, 1 forced fumble.

Height/Weight: 6’1”, 282 lbs.

Darius Stills may not have elite size for the defensive tackle position, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the best interior linemen in the nation. Stills has drawn some comparisons to Aaron Donald on some draft sites due to his production and athleticism as a smaller lineman. That isn't to say Stills is anywhere close to Aaron Donald’s level yet, but rather the similarity in their styles of play.

Stills has well-developed technique for a college defender with a nice arsenal of pass rush moves. He’s also athletic and explosive with above-average power. Despite primarily playing nose tackle last year in West Virginia’s 3-4 defense, he accumulated 7 sacks, which is incredible production for the position.

Size could be an issue when taking his game to the pros, but if you simply focus on production, Stills is one of the best defensive linemen in this year’s class.

Some notable articles about David Stills:

2021 NFL Draft: Darius Stills a name to watch in the Big 12 - Pro Football Network

Is Darius Stills Headed to the NFL? - Mountaineer Maven

Some other names to look out for this season include Purdue’s Lorenzo Neal, Colorado’s Mustafa Johnson, LSU’s Tyler Shelvin, UCLA’s Osa Odighizuwa, and Michigan State’s Naquan Jones.

Should the Steelers have any interest in the defensive line class in next year’s draft?

Currently, the team has strong, veteran starters and depth, comprised of names such as Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, and Chris Wormley. Isaiah Buggs and Carlos Davis are two young and unproven depth pieces who could possibly enjoy larger roles in the future. Henry Mondeaux was on the practice squad in 2019, but is a sleeper to make the team for the 2020 season.

Interior defensive line is a strength of the Steeler defense, and it doesn't look as if that will change in the next few seasons. However, Stephon Tuitt has an extensive injury history, Cam Heyward is near the end of his contract, and Tyson Alualu may not be playing for much longer— meaning that the continuity Pittsburgh has enjoyed at the front of their defense may no longer be a guarantee. Thankfully, it looks unlikely that the Steelers are planning to change up this part of their defense anytime soon.

Unless the Steelers move on from multiple pieces of their defensive line, it looks as if they will be set at the position for years to come.

Report: NFL is considering shortening the 2020 preseason to two games

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 1:41pm
Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

As the league and players work on establishing safe protocols for the season, reduction of the preseason is under consideration

In a report from NFL Networks Tom Pelissero, the NFL and the Players Association are currently in discussions about shortening the 2020 NFL preseason.

The NFL and NFLPA are discussing the possibility of shortening the 2020 preseason, per sources.

Nothing finalized or imminent, but multiple team executives informed of talks currently believe they could end up playing two preseason games, rather than four.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 10, 2020

While nothing has been set in stone, the fact both sides are discussing the issue is intriguing. According to Pelissero, the reasoning behind a shortened preseason would be to allow more safety protocols and better preparation time leading into regualar-season games.

Shortening the preseason would allow for a longer “ramp-up” period, regardless of whether players agree to report a week or two early, and provide extra time for medical experts to finalize game-day protocols for testing, etc. More at the top of the hour on @nflnetwork

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 10, 2020

How this development affects the Pittsburgh Steelers is another interesting item. The Steelers are currently scheduled for five preseason games as they are set to kick off the NFL season on Thursday, August 6 against the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has gone on record as saying they are hopeful to hold their enshrinement activities in early August on schedule. As for the Hall of Fame itself, it reopened to visitors this week.

Today we reopened for visitors after a nearly three-month closure as the entire nation locked down to slow the spread of a global pandemic. @PFHOFPrez welcomed the first guests who came to tour this morning. pic.twitter.com/4bXGuyZ5oR

— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) June 10, 2020

When it comes to the remainder of the Steelers 2020 preseason schedule, it will be interesting to see how the NFL adjusts. The Steelers are currently scheduled to play their home matchup’s in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Week 2 hosting the New Orleans Saints. With road games in Week 3 in New York against the Jets and their usual Week 4 matchup against the Panthers being in Carolina this season, it will be interesting to see how the NFL adjusts if they simply just cancel either the first two or last two weeks. Obviously the Steelers will not be the only team with whom they will need to reconsider their home and away schedules.

Of course, this notion of shortening the 2020 NFL preseason may be a bit premature. While the NFLPA and the league are in talks about how to handle the situation if needed, it does not mean the protocol will ever be put in place. But as sports are slowly returning, it is good to have a plan in place should the adjustment be necessary.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for breaking news, player updates, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers.

Multiple positions on Steelers defense ranked among NFL’s best.

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 12:25pm
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers’ Defensive line, Edge rushers and Cornerbacks all rank highly in different reports.

In the last 24 hours the Steelers have ranked highly on three different evaluations of defensive groups.

First, Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton ranked the top 7 corner back duos in the NFL, ranking Steven Nelson and Joe Haden 5th.

NEW Column: I ranked the top 7 cornerback duos in the NFL

And the top tandem is...??

P.S. This was an easy choice

https://t.co/ThPnUxI95n

— Maurice Moton (@MoeMoton) June 9, 2020

Steeler fans might not be happy to hear that Baltimore took the top spot in the rankings, but it is nice to see Haden and Nelson getting respect.

The article even covered one of Steelers fans biggest frustrations over the past decade.

The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t draft their perimeter cornerbacks, but general manager Kevin Colbert deserves credit for his free-agent investments at the position.

Thanks for reminding us how bad the Steelers are at drafting CBs. Hopefully Justin Layne can break the curse.

Later yesterday, Pro Football Focus released their rankings for the most valuable defensive lines in 2019.

Most valuable DL in 2019

1. Steelers
2. 49ers
3. Rams
4. Buccaneers pic.twitter.com/CSUpGBpWcz

— PFF (@PFF) June 10, 2020

With Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu for depth the Steelers defensive line had very few weaknesses, and good depth. Looking at production, it is hard to argue with 3 years of 50+ sacks.

Then today PFF put out their top edge rusher duo rankings. As you would expect, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree ranked high. The entire artice can read HERE, but here is the specific breakdown for Watt and Dupree:

Watt came in at 28th overall on the PFF50, PFF’s list of the 50 best players in the NFL entering the 2020 season. He has seen a smooth progression from solid contributor to player on the rise to bona fide star this past season. No edge defender put up a higher overall grade than Watt did in 2019 (91.3 overall). As a pass-rusher, he can win with speed, quickness and power, and he led the way for what was the NFL’s highest-graded team pass rush in Pittsburgh last season. Watt’s relentless motor makes him one of the better run defenders at the position, too. His 86.0 run-defense grade since 2018 just so happens to also be one of the best marks at the position, sitting one spot ahead of his brother J.J. Watt on the leaderboard.

On the other side, Dupree took a massive leap forward in 2019 after four disappointing seasons to start his career. His 77.7 overall grade this past year was over 15 points higher than he had ever recorded in any season from 2015 to 2018, and it ranked 23rd among 102 qualifying edge defenders last season. Dupree didn’t necessarily record pressure at a higher rate than in previous seasons, but what he did do was capitalize on his opportunities in the form of sacks (11.5) and forced fumbles (four), both well above his previous career highs. Dupree’s 75.0 run-defense grade was also significantly higher than his previous career high in 2018. It remains to be seen if he can repeat that performance after getting the franchise tag from Pittsburgh this offseason, but if he can, there is no doubt the Steelers have one of the best edge tandems in the NFL.

In looking at the entire article, Steelers fans will likely take issue with the Steelers dynamic edge rushers taking 5th, behind Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon (2nd) along with both duos involving the Bosa brothers. I get people don’t want to say the Steelers are the best at every position on defense, but the stats and tape are compelling. When the team with the worst offense in the NFL wins 8 games, you have to give someone credit.

So which position group on the Steelers defense do you think stands out the most? Or is it the entire unit working together which will be key in 2020? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below and, as always, stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for all your Steelers news.

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Chase Claypool

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 11:00am
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Breaking down every player one-by-one alphabetically on the Steelers current 90-man roster

Full steam ahead for part 17 of our 90-part series— assuming the roster does not change before we are complete— which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a look at the Steelers top selection in the 2020 NFL Draft:

Chase Claypool

Position: WR
Height: 6’ 4”
Weight: 238 lbs
College: Notre Dame
Draft: 2nd round, 49th Overall in 2020

2019 stats (Notre Dame)

66 Receptions
1037 Yards
13 Touchdowns
15.7 Yards per reception

Contract remaining

Official stats are yet to be made official. However, as the 17th pick in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL draft, Claypool will earn $6,616,636 over the next 4 years (2023) with $2.37 Million guaranteed.

Likelihood of making the roster

Lock. When was the last time a team cut its second round pick in his first camp? It was 1999 when Vikings first-round pick Dimitrius Underwood disappeared after the first practice never to return. I personally guarantee this won't happen to Claypool. The big Canadian is primed for a solid rookie season.

2020 projection

Despite not having rookie camp, and despite not getting as many reps with Ben then he would have in years prior, Chase Claypool will put up some solid numbers in 2020. For starters, he will get some very favorable matchups, Diontae Johnson will likely face teams top corners, and JuJu Smith-Schuster will have more success in his return to the slot which will force more safety help his way. This means Chase Claypool will see a ton of 1 on 1’s with teams 2nd and 3rd corners. Not only that, his giant frame will further prey on those matchups.

Projected stats:

53 Receptions
825 Yards
5 Touchdowns

Summary

If Claypool had gotten a full training camp, like in every other regular season, I would have told you he would put up a better rookie stat line than any of the receivers already on the roster. He’s going to bully around defensive backs and will help create one of the most challenging receiving corps to game plan against.

Pssst, you’d be a fool not to draft him in your fantasy football, dynasty leagues.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kameron Canaday

The Steelers need the Roethlisberger to Ebron connection to be a slam dunk.

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:49am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Free agent acquisition Eric Ebron is the most athletically gifted tight end Ben Roethlisberger has ever had at his disposal.

I don't know about my fellow Steelers brethren, but I sure do find it refreshing every time I see footage of Ben Roethlisberger throwing the ball around the yard to a few of his talented teammates. It is exciting and encouraging knowing he is healthy enough to confidently pull the trigger and “let 'er rip.”

In the short video, he is working with a familiar cast of characters. Although I am pleased to see him knocking off the rust and reestablishing the chemistry with some of his returning skill position players, I admit there was a particular scenario I wanted to see play out. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of newly-acquired Steelers TE Eric Ebron.

Ben Roethlisberger has been blessed to play with a plethora of outstanding skill position players throughout his Hall of Fame caliber career, especially at the wide receiver position. However, at the tight end position, not so much.

Don't get me wrong, former Steelers standout Heath Miller was a well rounded player and exemplary teammate. He was spectacularly solid, and caught everything that came his way, but he was in no way explosive. He was no threat to work the seam or create a instant mismatch for Ben to exploit.

Think back, if you will, to a situation many of us would just as soon forget. GM Kevin Colbert, in an attempt to acquire Big Ben a tight end capable of working the seams and to replace the recently retired Miller, signed former Chargers TE Ladarius Green as a free agent prior to the start of the 2016 season. After a lengthy stay on the injured list to start his Steelers tenure, Green started to click with Ben and enjoyed some success almost immediately prior to being injured yet again before the Steelers realized they were dealing with damaged goods. The end results were disappointing, but the potential impact was obvious.

Now Colbert has decided to roll the dice yet again, taking the calculated risk to acquire Ben an explosive weapon of a tight end— one that just so happens to come with some reported off-the-field baggage and injury concerns. I know what you are thinking, here we go again. But those concerns are a big reason why the Steelers were able to sign Ebron in spite of their limited cap space.

Eric Ebron is a prime example of the modern-day tight end. Merely an adequate blocker, he makes his living feasting on the mismatches his presence creates in coverage. The QB/TE dynamic is similar to the relationship between a point guard and his post player on the basketball court. It takes trust and timing to work efficiently in the middle of all that traffic and congestion. Things happen fast, and both players have to be on the same page to be successful. Good thing Ben played some point guard in high school.

Hopefully Ben and Ebron develop an almost instantaneous rapport right out of the gate, at least on a level similar to the Ben to Green connection mentioned earlier. Ebron's ability to line up inline or out wide, coupled with the Steelers impressive wide receivers group, should adequately stretch opposing defenses and open up running lanes for the Steelers talented stable of running backs.

Ben may very well struggle in the early stages of the season as he adjusts to his new throwing arm and new faces in the huddle. A strong running game and a security blanket of a tight end could be just what the doctor ordered to help Ben work through any initial difficulties.

Nobody knows what the future holds, especially with both men coming back from injury-shortened seasons, but the potential is definitely there for the makings of a beautiful friendship.

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