The Pittsburgh Steelers are relatively boring as far as training camp stories go. The offensive starters are set outside of the WR3 spot, with the same five offensive linemen returning, Ben Roethlisberger coming back for another year at quarterback, Le’Veon Bell behind him, and Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster out wide. On the defensive side, there’s only a starter spot next to Vince Williams at inside linebacker that will be determined during camp. The secondary seems to be set, although there’s enough depth and vulnerability between the starters that there could be some movement. Let’s take a look at some of the question marks as the Steelers move from Pittsburgh to Latrobe later this month for training camp.
As far as who will be starting in three-wide sets, most would assume that 2018 second-round pick James Washington would slide into that role, but apparently Justin Hunter (yes, the same Justin Hunter from 2013), has been impressing teammates. According to Mike Prisuta, via left guard Ramon Foster, three players stood out during offseason activities and Hunter was amongst those he’s most excited about. Foster was quoted as saying Hunter “...(is) making plays I didn’t see him make all of last year.” Which included “Deep balls, high jump-balls, he’s just catching combat catches. Justin is looking really good.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not betting on Hunter to be a fantasy starter for your teams this year. He does, however, bring an element of deep speed that, outside of 31-year-old Darrius Heyward-Bey, this receiving corps lacks. If Hunter can play well enough to just earn snaps, that will eat into Washington’s opportunities. Looking at the chart below from ffstatistics.com, the Steelers third-highest receiver in terms of fantasy points isn’t exactly a goldmine anyway. James Washington may be a great long-term option for Pittsburgh, but dynasty owners need to temper expectations year one.
In the backfield, it’s all Le’Veon Bell, all the time. The dude just never comes off the field other than in the cases of injury or suspension. He’s fully expected to sign his franchise tag for the second year in a row and will be run into the ground with over 300 rush attempts and over 70 catches. Who should owners target as his handcuff? James Conner has been mentioned by both beat writers and players as being a minicamp stand out, looking better than he has at any point last year. Referring to the Ramon Foster article from above, Foster mentioned both Conner and fifth-round draft pick Jaylen Samuels as the other two standouts. Samuels is extremely intriguing, especially if Bell misses time during the season. Samuels has workhorse running back size at 5’11” and 225 lbs., and he logged 65, 55, and 75 catches his final three years at North Carolina State as a running back/fullback/tight end. Conner is the guy to own right now, but don’t sleep on Samuels if something were to happen to Bell.
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN believes that Vance McDonald “will be a big part of the offense” but I’m not buying it. Between Brown, Smith-Schuster, and Bell - combined with McDonald’s inability to play a full season - it seems like a bit of a stretch. In redraft, I’d keep an eye on him as a potential weekly streamer, but in dynasty he’s nothing more than a deep bench stash.For the defense, the main storyline is the inside linebacker spot next to Vince Williams that will be decided between free agent acquisition Jon Bostic and 2016 seventh-round draft pick Tyler Matakevich. This is by far their weakest position group, and if any of these three go down with a serious injury, they will be exposed just as they were last year. The secondary appears to be the deepest it’s been in quite some time, although it still is not a strength. Steelers’ defensive coordinator Keith Butler wants to put another free agent signing, Morgan Burnett, at strong safety. This, coming from Tim Benz, would move Sean Davis to free safety. The corner spots look like Joe Haden and Artie Burns, with Mike Hilton manning the slot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cam Sutton see significant snaps, and I’m expecting 2018 first-rounder Terrell Edmunds to be moved all around the formation due to his absurd athleticism.
Steelers practices at Saint Vincent College begin Thursday, July 26th. Keep your eyes peeled at the end of this month for my next report as camp information starts to pour in!