We’re all anxious for the season to start for many reasons. One of these is seeing how last years draft class improves and impacts the team. These are my predictions for how each player from the draft class will perform in 2016.
1) Bud Dupree – OLB
Many fans, including myself, were shocked and ecstatic when Bud Dupree fell to the Steelers in last years draft. Dupree ended up playing a significant amount of snaps during the season, but unfortunately didn’t have a significant impact. His youth and inexperience were evident. However, at times he was able to flash the athletic ability that got him drafted in the first round.
Steeler nation is hoping to see Dupree make a jump in 2016. The combination of his measurables and athleticism give Dupree an opportunity to be a dominant edge rusher in the NFL someday. Unfortunately, I don’t think that time is here yet. I believe Dupree will play much better in 2016 and have an impact on this defense , but I still think he is a year or two away from dominance.
I do think though we’ll see a much more complete player this year. With a year under his belt and an offseason to train and learn, Dupree will be much more comfortable with his assignments and technique, enabling him to more effectively drop back in coverage and more consistently beating his guy on the edge.
1 forced fumbles
2) Senquez Golson – CB
The Steelers finally drafted a cornerback in a high round, fans were so excited… and then he got put on injured reserve for the season. Senquez Golson had a very unfortunate 2015. However, now he his healthy again and ready to start for the 2016 season. Though there’s been some controversy lately with him needing an MRI, he is expected to be ready for training camp.
Golson is a very versatile player and has the ability to play cornerback on the inside or outside. This versatility gives him an opportunity to be a big asset for this secondary. His ballhawking skills will excite fans too; his senior season at Ole Miss he finished with 10 interceptions. The Steelers turnover ratio greatly improved from 2014 to 2015, and Golson in the secondary they can certainly continue top the previous ratio. The Steelers love of blitzing their defensive backs should allow him to get a few sacks as well.
Because Golson has never played an NFL snap, it is likely he’ll experience some growing pains. However, his toughness and ball skills should be evident off the bat and those alone will make Steeler fans excited for this young player.
9 passes defended
3) Sammie Coates – WR
Another guy many fans are excited for, Sammie Coates is a player many are hoping takes a big step forward in 2016. His situation differed from the other high draft picks. He didn’t deal with injury or get starting time, he sat the bench most of the season. It wasn’t until the playoff game against the Broncos that we got a taste of his potential, and he delivered with a performance of 2 catches for 61 yards. Showcasing his athleticism and run-after-catch ability.
With Martavis Bryant out for the 2016 season, Coates is primed to have a big year. I think the Steelers will take advantage of Coates’ speed and explosiveness and have him be their primary deep threat. Similar to Bryant and Mike Wallace before him, Coates will likely make some bad drops and run some bad routes, but he’ll make his money streaking down the field and burning defensive backs. As we saw too in the Denver game, he’ll also have success with short passes that give him the opportunity to run and make guys miss.
Coates won’t be a complete receiver in 2016, but the Steelers will surely take advantage of his speed and athleticism in order to properly utilize him as he continues to grow as a player. It is entirely plausible for him to have one of the top yards-per-catch averages in the league this season. The vast talent on this offense will be beneficial for Coates for he won’t be pressured to step up and be the cornerstone. He will be given the proper time to grow, and I believe he will.
4) Doran Grant – CB
One of the biggest mysteries from this draft class, nobody knows what to expect from Doran Grant. He only played 1 snap last season and has gotten virtually no buzz in the media. It’s bizarre because you would expect a 4th round player to be able to be a solid contributor. Though Grant remains an enigma, I do think he’ll eventually see the field in 2016.
Ideally Grant could turn into a player like William Gay; the two have very similar measurables and playing styles. Training camp will be huge for him because we will finally get an opportunity to discover if Grant is capable of contributing to this defense and if the coaching staff see’s him a role for him on this defense. Let’s hope Grant has a chip on his shoulder and comes into training camp ready to compete.
5) Jesse James – TE
A potential secret weapon for the Steelers, Jesse James doesn’t get the buzz he deserves. He played surprisingly well in his limited snaps in 2015. He showed he has the ability to be a very well-balanced tight end for the Steelers, capable of contributing as both a blocker and receiver. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him step up as our #2 tight end this season.
James and Ladarius Green can make a dangerous duo. Green’s a more dangerous target so he will most likely be more focused on my defenses, but if teams don’t account for James this could allow him to have a lot of opportunities. My pal Joe Kuzma of Steel City Underground wrote an article on Jesse James’ potential, similar to what he wrote, the Steelers like to spread the ball around in their offense and James doesn’t need to an abundance of targets to be effective. Though most of the balls will and should go to Antonio Brown, James would be a great benefit to this offense by catching 1-3 balls per games. His massive 6’7 frame will also enable him to be a nice redzone weapon for us.
6a) L.T. Walton – DE
Believe it or not, L.T. Walton is in a position to make the 53 man roster and be the primary 3-4 end back-up to Cam Heyward & Stephon Tuitt. This isn’t entirely due to his skill though, rather our lack of depth at the position. The Steelers have good depth for their nickel packages in Javon Hargrave & Ricardo Mathews, but those players aren’t suited for the 5T. As of now it is a competition between Walton & Cash Lyons for the position.
Walton has the measurables and motor to be a solid backup, but we know virtually nothing about him. Considering no free agents were brought in to compete for that 5T position, the Steelers must like either Walton or Lyons. It’ll certainly be worth monitoring his play and progress in training camp. Walton is a player who could make the roster, but also may be put on the practice squad if beat by Lyons.
6b) Anthony Chickillo – OLB
Most of us fans know the Steelers need help at edge rusher, but its unclear whether or not Anthony Chickillo is the answer. Chickillo received limited playing time last season but failed to do anything significant. However he was able to make a splash play when he forced a fumble during a kick return versus the Browns.
Despite not be a star athlete like Bud Dupree and recent draft selection Travis Feeney, Chickillo plays with a great motor and intelligence. He may not ever be a monster on the edge, but I believe he is capable of contributing to this team eventually. My gut tells me at some point in the season one of our primary edge rushers will go down with an injury and Chickillo will step up in his place and surprise us all with solid play.
7) Gerod Holliman – S
HA! Sorry I couldn’t help myself. Gerod Holliman is long gone from the team. Yes he had ball skills, but he was less aggressiveness than my newborn niece. Players laughed at him during training camp because he avoided physical contact. The Steelers training robot probably hits harder than him. Anyway, moving on.
Roosevelt Nix – FB
One of my new favorite players, Roosevelt Nix quickly went from an afterthought to a fan-favorite. He earned it too. He displayed toughness and tenacity on the field in special teams as well with his run blocking. The Steelers are one of the few teams to still utilize a fullback, but the difference in the running game is apparent when Nix is on the field.
With his starting job locked and an offseason to train, the sky is the limit with Nix. I can see him being a major contributor in the running game and on special teams for years to come.
Eli Rogers – WR
Another rookie who was put on injured reserve, Eli Rogers got a lot of buzz during training camp last season. Unfortunately he required surgery for his foot and was out for the year.
This buzz has continued into this offseason, with many reports saying Rogers has impressed as a receiver as well as being a candidate to be the teams punt returner. He is a player to keep an eye on the season and is someone worth rooting for. Very few will actually be surprised if he makes the 53 man roster. At this point it seems he’ll primarily be battling rookie Demarcus Ayers for a roster spot.
BJ Finney – G/C
Not a sexy position, but a vital one. BJ Finney was one of the Steelers more high profile UDFA signings last season. The Steelers appear to be fond of him, giving him a big pay raise part way through the season. This move speaks louder than his actual play last offseason.
Finney will most likely be competing with Chris Hubbard for the backup guard position. Both players are fairly young, but Hubbard likely has the edge due to his experience. Finney will have to prove to be a capable swing lineman in order to beat out Hubbard and make the 53 man roster, or else he’ll likely head back to the practice squad.