By Matthew Marczi
The statistics website Pro Football Focus has been running a series early this offseason projecting the starting lineups of each team—sans pending free agents—and grading each player on a sliding scale from “Poor Starter/Gamble” to “Elite Starter”, with “Unknown” also factored into the equation.
Yesterday was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ turn to receive this treatment, and quite frankly, I believe their assessment is largely both fair and accurate.
It’s worth keeping in mind, again, that this lineup excludes all pending free agents, including Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel, Al Woods, Jason Worilds, Ryan Clark, etc.
While the site doesn’t give the elite status to any of the players on the roster, it does indicate that Antonio Brown has the potential to reach that status. The three “High Quality” starters on the team are Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, and Brown.
Pro Football Focus notes, however, that David DeCastro, LaMarr Woodley, and Cameron Heyward are all “Solid” starters with the potential to reach “High Quality”. Woodley, of course, would be attempting to scale that precipice again after a series of injuries have reduced his impact in recent years.
The other three “Solid” starters include Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and Lawrence Timmons. It’s noteworthy that five players on the roster, namely Le’Veon Bell, Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert, Heath Miller, and Steve McLendon have the potential to ascend to “Solid Starter”.
By far the most numerous are the “Adequate Starter”-quality players on the roster, with the five aforementioned with the potential to ascend being joined by three others: Will Johnson, Cortez Allen, and William Gay.
The Steelers do have four players listed as a “Below Average Starter”. Those four players are Ike Taylor, Larry Foote, Jarvis Jones, and Markus Wheaton, though the latter two are considered as players with the potential to ascend to “Adequate Starter” this season.
Nobody was slighted with the “Poor Starter” designation, though thanks to the free agency situation, there are three starters penciled in about which not enough is known: Brian Arnfelt, Shamarko Thomas, and Derek Moye.
Of course, it’s a virtual certainty that neither Moye nor Arnfelt will find themselves starting once players like Cotchery and a defensive end or two are re-signed, though Thomas starting at safety is certainly possible. Why Thomas is an unknown but Wheaton is not is somewhat unclear to me.
As I said, by and large I believe that Pro Football Focus accurately summarized the Steelers’ roster as it sits right now, and there’s not much I would take issue with. Here is their overall summary of the roster:
Without much by way of gray (unknowns) or orange (subpar starters) on this chart Pittsburgh find themselves with a reasonably talented roster that with the right investment could see the Steelers elevate themselves back towards the top of the AFC North at the very least in 2014. Led by the ever excellent Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers also have quality in some of the key spots that has ensured that even through their “struggles” missing the playoffs in two straight seasons they have never bottomed out.
While I don’t find any of these categorizations egregious, there are a few suggestions that I would offer. For example, I think it would be more than fair to say that Roethlisberger has the potential to be an “Elite Starter”. Pouncey certainly deserves to be credited with the potential to be a “High Quality Starter”, as well as Timmons.
Perhaps “Poor Starter” without any qualification for the potential to be an “Adequate Starter” is a bit extreme for Taylor and Foote, though at this point I’m sure many will be in agreement with the site on these two players.
Some of their categorizations I find to be quite astute, however. For example, giving McLendon credit for the ability to ascend to “Solid Starter”, or noting the same for the two tackles. Foster is properly recognized as a solid starter while Miller is recognized as having the potential to regain some of his old form after working through a season coming off a knee injury. Overall, Pro Football Focus was more astute than I expected them to be.