The Pittsburgh Steelers were a mixed bag in the 2019 season. They traded Antonio Brown to the Raiders (sorry Alex), Big Ben was injured and missed essentially the entire season (14 games and 1 half) then traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick and ended up 8-8. Quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges were not very inspiring at all during their rotating starts. With a healthy Big Ben, a phenomenal defense returning and a solid draft will the Steelers return to the playoffs or even make a Super Bowl run? Let’s take a look at the state of the Steelers.
3 Position Battles to Watch:
Left Guard: Matt Feiler, Stefen Wisniewski
The Steelers lost left guard Ramon Foster to retirement in the off-season. In free agency they signed Stefen Wisniewski. Matt Feiler served as the replacement for Marcus Gilbert at right tackle for the vast majority of the 2019 season. So you might be wondering why Feiler is involved in the left guard discussion. Well it’s because in 2019 when the Rams played against the Steelers at Heinz Field Matt Feiler played left guard. Ramon Foster was out with a concussion and Feiler helped hold Aaron Donald to only 1 sack in the game with Mason Rudolph taking snaps.
The Steelers have seen Feiler fill in for Foster before. Mike Tomlin also said in a press conference that “Those who have experience and have been apart of this thing probably have a leg up.” That gives Feiler a clear advantage in the left guard battle. Keep an eye out for Feiler replacing Foster and Wisniewski taking the B.J. Finney role of backup guard and center.
Right Tackle: Zach Banner, Chukwuma Okorafor
As a result of Matt Feiler moving to left guard the right tackle spot is wide open for the Steelers. During the previously mentioned 2019 game against the Rams, it was Chukwuma Okorafor that filled in at right tackle. Okorafor was the swing tackle for the Steelers in 2019. Banner played in 6 offensive linemen sets, making him a fan favorite for “Reporting eligible.” Keeping Big Ben healthy is crucial to the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. Securing the right tackle spot is another important part. Okorafor and Banner will battle it out in Training Camp. However, if the entire preseason gets scraped it should be expected to see Okorafor at right tackle and Banner reporting eligible yet again.
Nose Tackle: Daniel McCullers, Tyson Alualu
The Steelers lost nose tackle Javon Hargrave to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. The Steelers did not, and really could not, bring in a solid replacement in free agency. Sorry, Cavon Walker does not excite me at all. He was in the XFL for a reason and he’ll be a backup at best. Tomlin said in a press conference that Tyson Alualu would get the first snap at nose tackle. However, this does NOT mean he is a lock to be Hargrave’s replacement. Daniel McCullers has been a long time member of the Steelers and was Hargrave’s backup. Note tackles typically do not get much production. Their job is to eat double, sometimes triple, teams and free up the inside linebackers to make plays. Hargrave was a monster, replacing him is going to be difficult. Whether it’s McCullers or Alualu, Hargrave’s replacement has some massive shoes to fill.
Ready To Break Out: Benny Snell Jr.
Benny Snell Jr. was a 4th round pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2019 NFL Draft. Being a bigger running back at 5’10 224 he can takeover as the between the tackles bruiser. In 2019, Benny Snell Jr and James Conner had similar stat lines and they both fulfill the same role in the backfield. Conner had 464 rushing yards on 116 attempts (4 yards per carry) while having 4 rushing touchdowns. He had 26 first down runs (22.41%), 2 runs of 20+ yards as well as 1 fumble. Snell had 426 rushing yards on 108 carries (3.9 yards per carry) and 2 rushing touchdowns. He had 19 carries that went for 1st downs (17.59%), 3 runs of 20+ yards and 1 fumble (Stats from NFL.com).
Conner battled injuries throughout the 2019 season. He is also entering the final year of his contract. If he struggles, whether it is because of injuries or not, expect Benny Snell Jr to take over. Benny Snell Jr had a promising rookie year for Steelers, he will build on it and improve in year 2.
Rookie To Watch: Chase Claypool
Chase Claypool was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He played 4 seasons of college football at Notre Dame, improving every year. He finished his senior season with 66 catches, 1037 yards and 13 touchdowns in 13 games. The Steelers have an amazing wide receiver room with Juju Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Ryan Switzer and now Chase Claypool. So what makes him so special? Simply put, his size and speed. Claypool is 6’4, 238 pounds and ran a 4.42 40 yard dash. He has amazing speed, height, size and strength with his 19 reps on the bench press at the combine.
Smith-Schuster struggled with injuries and with dealing with number 1 wide receiver coverage and attention. Smith-Schuster works best in the slot, Claypool can dominate on the outside. He has the speed to scare defenses and that size gives him a massive advantage. Don’t be surprised when Claypool works his way into the starting lineup and starts Mossing people.
Fantasy Sleeper: Anthony McFarland Jr.
If you’ve been watching the Vendetta Sports Fantasy Show on our Youtube channel or reading my “Who The Fuck is That Guy” series, you know my thoughts on Anthony McFarland Jr. McFarland adds incredible speed to the Pittsburgh running back room. Benny Snell Jr and James Conner both fulfill the same role, between the tackles bruiser. Anthony McFarland Jr. will be competing against Jaylen Samuels for the 3rd down and change of pace back duties. McFarland is a big play waiting to happen. He will beat out Jaylen Samuels and will make big plays for both the Steelers and you if he is on your fantasy team.