2017 Offseason Questions: Most Improved Position Group From A Year Ago?

The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: What position group on the Steelers’ roster has improved the most from around this time last year?

It’s more or less inevitable that there will be some give and take between the relative qualities of different position groups on a 53-man roster depending on how a team chooses to handle its business in terms of investing resources of money and draft picks. The inevitable improvement or decline of current talent obviously plays a major factor as well.

From this time last season—that is, prior to the 2016 NFL Draft—the roster has undergone a lot of changes, and certain players have improved, while others have begun to decline. New players have been brought in, while others found new homes elsewhere.

This leads to the question of which group has benefitted the most from the course of the past year heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, and my initial impression is that, despite its critics, the cornerback group may be as worthy a candidate as any.

In 2015, the Steelers were still relying on Antwon Blake to play a major role in the secondary, and yet was still losing out on time from Ross Cockrell, who was only signed with the final roster cuts and was playing within a couple of weeks of joining the team.

A year later, Cockrell has developed into a legitimate and ascending starting cornerback, and meanwhile the team drafted another legitimate and ascending starting cornerback in Artie Burns. While their continued improvement is essential, they are in a better position than they were a year ago.

Another group that deserves consideration is the defensive line, even with the loss of Steve McLendon from a year ago. Javon Hargrave’s impressive rookie season bodes well for more, while Stephon Tuitt will continue to improve. The addition of Tyson Alualu gives them the most legitimate rotational option they’ve had in years.

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Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Michael James

    I think it has to be WR, if Martavis comes back and doesn’t smoke anymore. He’s arguably one of the 3 most naturally gifted WRs in the NFL and each time you can add such a talent, it’s a huge improvement. We saw that AB is still great without Bryant, but teams can concentrate a lot more on him if Martavis isn’t in the lineup.

  • mokhkw

    I would choose OL as the most improved group overall. Since this time last year:

    AV became a legit starting LT.

    Foster had the best year of his career.

    Pouncey was Pouncey, meaning he wasn’t injured.

    DeCastro had some bad games at the start of the season but still made the Pro Bowl ( for whatever that’s worth) despite it not being his best year.

    Gilbert was very quietly one of the best RTs in the league again.

    BJ Finney showed he could be a starter if he was with around 28 other teams and is the best sub OL for the Steelers I can recall in recent memory.

    Chris Hubbard was ok as a sub player and extra TE in heavy packages.

    Meanwhile we have Jerald Hawkins, last years 4th Rd pick who, if he had stayed in school for another year, was predicted to be a Top 50 player in this years draft. At this time last year I was predicting he would challenge AV for the LT spot in ’17 and although I now don’t expect that to happen I think he will play as the extra TE (over Hubbard) and show us a glimpse of how good he will be. And if one of the OTs does get hurt or falter we will have a backup at OT as good as the backup we have at C/OG (Finney).

    It’s an impressive group, even with losing Vet OT Ryan Harris. I think we have 7 legit NFL starters, for years we struggled to field 5 ( and didn’t in a lot of cases).

  • Phil Brenneman II

    This answer may sound a bit crazy given the obvious need at this point but I think you can make an argument for OLB. Let’s face it, nobody really knew what we had in Dupree and he has now shown that he can be a very capable guy for us.

    CB is the other answer but I think it is still a huge concern going in. So while it has improved I still don’t trust us to cover the teams with better receiving corps. On the other hand, I do trust in James Harrison to continue being James and Dupree to take another step forward and maybe become one of the better LB’s in the game.

    So yeah, I think you can make a strong case for OLB being most improved just off of gaining one sure future starter alone. But I am fine with picking CB as well.

  • Alan Tman

    Good call, because corner was probably 25 out of 100 last year. Now it’s probably 55 and climbing.

  • RickM

    It’s a point in time question. If Bryant returns and Coates is healthy on opening day, it’ll be WR. But right now, yes I agree that CB leads the way followed by D-line depth. But it’s kind of a gimme for the CB’s when a name like Antwon Blake is part of the equation. His 2015 play was so bad.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I think the answer is D-Line.

    Adding a player like Hargrave is critical to long-term success. Heyward is Heyward and Tuitt took another step forward when Cam went down. Adding Alualu for depth, is great. And Walton too, now looks like he can really help if needed, as he has definitely began to grow and mature. We let both McLendon AND fan favorite, Cam Thomas walk last off-season. And at least one of those (I won’t mention which) is certainly addition by subtraction. 5 days from now last year, is when we signed Ricardo Matthews. And now we have let him walk, which is fine, replaced by Alualu. And Big Dan, is well, still Big Dan, and one could assume, a bit better than last off-season, with some more seasoning. And we’ll see what Maxey can provide this year.

    With CB, we have added Montgomery Burns. Which is nice. And Cockrell has by some estimations (not all), gotten better. But Gay has gotten worse by most estimations (though not all) and Golson is still.. well… Glass Joe. Yes, there is some addition by subtractions argument to be made with CB. (Grant, Blake, Boykin, Allen, last – and now this off-season, Gilbert. ) We gained Shabazz back and now Sensabaugh. But I just don’t think those moves are ultimately as significant in progression, addition, and subtraction, as the D-Line.

    Assuming of course, we’re not allowing ourselves to factor in Davis, even though he manned Slot CB for some time.