Quiet offseason for Steelers results in average grade

Bryson Vesnaver walks through each offseason move by the Steelers, including the addition of TE Ladarius Green.

| 4 months ago
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Quiet offseason for Steelers results in average grade


The 2016 offseason has been a relatively quiet one for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as they so often are. The Steelers definitely prefer to build through the draft rather than overspend on free agents, and this offseason was no different. Considering the success they’ve had over the past many years, it’s a strategy that nobody should be arguing with. Despite some huge injuries at key points in the 2015 season, there was not a whole lot of change needed for the Steelers to compete again in 2016.

Offseason Grade: C

Free agency/Trades

New Arrivals: OT Ryan Harris, TE Ladarius Green, LB Steven Johnson, DE Ricardo Matthews 

Re-signings: QB Bruce Gradkowski, S Robert Golden, CB William Gay, LS Greg Warren, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, G Ramon Foster, C Chris Hubbard, CB Ross Cockrell, FB Roosevelt Nix 

Departures: TE Heath Miller, CB Antwon Blake, DT Steve McLendon, CB Cortez Allen, ILB Sean Spence, ILB Terrance Garvin, S Will Allen, CB Brandon Boykin, DT Cam Thomas, OT Kelvin Beachum, FB Will Johnson, OT Byron Stingily, RB Jordan Todman, OT Mitchell Van Dyk, DE Clifton Geathers, QB Michael Vick, C Doug Legursky

One name not mentioned above is WR Martavis Bryant, who will miss the entire 2016 season with a suspension. That, coupled with the retirement of Heath Miller, means that the Steelers have lost two of their top-three receiving threats from last season. Pittsburgh signed Ladarius Green as a replacement for Miller, with the hopes that he’ll improve now that he’s not stuck behind Antonio Gates on the depth chart. In 2013, Green was the 12th-highest graded TE in the NFL, despite playing just 36 percent of his teams’ snaps.

Ladarius Green’s career grades

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The signing of Ryan Harris is a curious one. While the Steelers do need help on the offensive line, especially with the loss of Kelvin Beachum, Harris has been consistently declining over the past three seasons. Last season capped it all off as he graded 60th out of 76 tackles.

The Steelers’ defense lost a lot of players from last season, but many of them had struggled. Antwon Blake was our second-lowest graded corner in the league in 2015, while Cam Thomas, Steve McLendon, and Sean Spence all graded negatively. The additions of Steven Johnson and Ricardo Matthews are more than likely depth signings, and neither should be expected to make big contributions. Johnson played just 26 defensive snaps last season, and has mostly been a special-teams player throughout his career. Matthews has had just one above-average season in his career, and last season was the third-lowest graded interior defender in all of football (out of 123).

2016 NFL draft

  • Round 1 (pick No. 25) Artie Burns, CB, Miami
  • Round 2 (pick No. 58) Sean Davis, S, Maryland
  • Round 3 (pick No. 89) Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
  • Round 4 (pick No. 123) Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU
  • Round 6 (pick No. 220) Travis Feeney, OLB, Washington
  • Round 7 (pick No. 229) (from New York Giants) Demarcus Ayers, WR, Houston
  • Round 7 (pick No. 246) Tyler Matakevich, ILB, Temple

The Steelers’ draft intentions were clear: they wanted some new defenders to try and rebuild the defense, specifically the secondary. Artie Burns was a curious pick, as he plays a more press-man style, while the Steelers ran zone-coverage more than any other team last year. However, both he and Sean Davis are good athletes with size and speed, and that may be what the Steelers were looking for more than anything. Javon Hargrave owns one of the quickest first steps of any DT drafted, and has the potential to be a solid player.

Hawkins was a reach by our standards, as we had him ranked 232nd on our big board. He’s got the size and athleticism, but never really put all of it together last season in terms of production. Feeney is a good fit for the Steelers’ scheme, and his pass-rush productivity of 14.3 was 12th-best at his position last season.

Conclusion

While the Steelers didn’t really lose any of their core star players, they failed to bring in anyone that should be expected to make big contributions next season. Green was their big signing, and while he has the potential to become a regular contributor, he hasn’t really shown enough to prove that he can effectively replace Miller. Defensively, they signed mostly depth while saying goodbye to players that struggled last season. The theme of the draft seemed to be athletic players that they can try to develop into solid players, as the production level didn’t really match the draft positions for many of their picks.

However, with all that said, the Steelers didn’t really need to do much this offseason. Offensively, they’ll still be one of the best in the NFL, with top-five QB Ben Roethlisberger throwing to the league’s reigning No. 1 WR, Antonio Brown, as well as the return of Le’Veon Bell. They’ll be counting on Markus Wheaton to step up and help with the loss of Bryant, and if he can play like he finished the season last year (12th-highest receiving grade through the last seven games), then they shouldn’t have a problem.

Defensively, they’ve got James Harrison for at least another year, they’ve still got Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt on the line, and a lot of young players who can hopefully improve this season and contribute positively. With a loaded offense, the Steelers don’t need their defense to be amazing—they should score enough points and make enough stops to still be one of the top teams in the AFC.

Steelers’ projected base defense in 2016 (2015 grades shown):

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 2.58.48 PM

Steelers’ projected base offense in 2016 (2015 grades shown):

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 2.59.04 PM

| Analyst

Bryson has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, and has also been a contributor to 120 Sports.

  • crosseyedlemon

    No playoffs for the Steelers this season but Sid the kid and the Penguins are having a good post season run.

    • Jon

      I am not sure what makes you think the Steelers won’t make the playoffs, barring an injury to Big Ben, AB or Bell. Care to elaborate?

      • crosseyedlemon

        The Steelers only made the playoffs last year because the Jets couldn’t beat Rex Ryan when it mattered. The Raiders appear to have made a solid upgrade during the off season and will likely replace Pittsburgh in the post season. Teams that need a tie breaker to reach the playoffs really can’t afford to stand pat but that is pretty much what the Steelers have done.

        • Jon

          Sure, the Steeler’s needed a Jets win to get in- but barring an injury to a key player again, they will absolutely be in the mix once again. Keep in mind the Steeler’s were almost a fumble by their third string running back away from beating the eventual Super Bowl Champs. Their offense will be just as dynamic as last year, and they only need one or two of these defensive rookies to have an impact on defense in order to help an admittedly porous unit. If Ben had not missed 4 games and Bell/ DeAngelo missed time they would not have needed the tiebreaker.

        • Runner1967

          A healthy Jets team. The PS had a huge slew of injuries. Jets aren’t anywhere near as good as a healthy PS. PS lost a pro bowl center, their starting LT, one of the best RBs in the league just to name a few. BTW using the losing to Rex Ryan when it mattered is a crock of BS. The Steelers lost to the Ravens without Flacco that is easily a far crappier loss when it “mattered.”

  • shaunhan murray

    I still think the steelers are very good super bowl contenders and vegas agrees with me

  • Runner1967

    Harris won’t be the starter at LT.