Earlier this offseason, way back in February, Pro Football Focus projected the starting lineups of each team based on their then-current roster, and the site actually came away with a fairly positive take on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2014 prospects.
There were a few changes from the lineup since then, of course. Notably, at that time Derek Moye was the third receiver, Brian Arnfelt was in the starting lineup (as was Shamarko Thomas), and Larry Foote was still on the roster.
Those positions were replaced by a “good starter” in Lance Moore, “average starters” in Cam Thomas and Mike Mitchell, and a rookie in Ryan Shazier. All around, of course, that would suggest an upgraded lineup.
But PFF got around to evaluating the entire roster recently, reflecting moves after free agency and the draft, and to be blunt, they more or less trashed the Steelers’ depth, which they ranked as the 27th-best in the league.
The only two players that the site views as capable of being even average starters behind the actual starters are linebacker Arthur Moats and safety Will Allen. Even Vince Williams, who started 11 games for the Steelers last season, is a player that they view as a below average starter.
Also deemed below average starters are reserve quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, tight ends Matt Spaeth and David Paulson, and tackle Mike Adams. Based on his 2013 season, it would be hard to argue with Adams, but at the same time, there’s plenty of room for optimism about his future.
Likewise, PFF viewed Spaeth as the best run-blocking tight end in the league in 2012, and he even made some surprising catches from time to time.
While he had some mixed success in Pittsburgh trying to step into the starting lineup for Heath Miller over the years, “below average” suggests an overreaction to an underwhelming 2013 badly marred by a significant foot injury that required surgery.
Last, but not least, are three “poor starters” among the Steelers’ reserves: tackle Guy Whimper, cornerback Brice McCain, and punter Adam Podlesh. I have discussed Podlesh’s situation previously. He has struggled with consistency since suffering a hip injury in 2012, but his punts rarely get returned, nor does he register many touchbacks.
As for McCain, he is a 5’9” slot corner, and that is his role. Whimper actually performed better than Adams at tackle last season. His work at guard could use improvement, but he only began to learn the position a year ago after joining the Steelers.
The rest of the roster is full of rookies and other unknowns.
From Antwon Blake to Justin Brown, from Sean Spence to Cody Wallace, it’s all one big mystery. In total, the Steelers have 17 players about which the site feels there’s “not enough information” on which to judge, including Markus Wheaton in the starting lineup. Add in the nine rookies, and that’s 26 of the 62 players included on the Steelers’ current roster that are just a big ball of curiosity.