The Steelers have had a lot of great defensive lineman in their history, and they may have another about to breakout. Stephon Tuitt has the potential to turn into a star during the 2016 season. After having a modest season in 2014, Tuitt played great in 2015 posting respectable stats of 42 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and even an interception. His major strides from his rookie to sophomore year give no reason to think he can’t continue to improve in his 3rd year.
The Steelers defensive line led the team in sacks in 2015 and that may happen again in 2016. Tuitt and Cam Heyward are a dominant duo and they will potentially be the two best players on the defense this season. Tuitt hardly ever came off the field last season and his high percentage of snaps wasn’t just due to the lack of d-line depth last year, but because he consistently plays at such a high level.
If Tuitt continues to improve his play he will be a force in 2016. With Keith Butler’s pass-rush heavy defense, Tuitt may even be capable of double digit sacks this season. It took until his 3rd year for Heyward to break out and I anticipate the same for Tuitt.
He’ll have to fight for it, but Sammie Coates has a chance to win the #2 wide receiver spot in 2016. Markus Wheaton has been a solid receiver that has flashed potential, but he’s yet to consistently shine. Darrius Heyward-Bey is a mostly-reliable veteran, but has hit his ceiling. Coates has the highest ceiling among the receivers not named Brown.
We were given a mere taste of his ability last year in the playoffs when he posted 2 receptions for 61 yards. These simple stats don’t tell the whole story though. Coates receptions weren’t simple deep balls, they were short passes where he used his athleticism and vision to gain yards. The Steelers have had great success drafting wide receivers in the middle rounds, and Coates could be the next one of these greats.
If you look around on Twitter, you’ll often see Steeler fans hyping up Sammie Coates. This hype is deserved, for Coates is in a perfect position to be one of the top breakout wide receivers in 2016.
“You’re like a brand-new Ferrari in the impound lot that I’m just looking through the fence at.” Ben Roethlisberger is excited about his new weapon, and Steeler fans should be too. Ladarius Green was a tease during his time in San Diego. He’d flash his immense talent and potential, but then would be relegated back to the bench. During the 2015 season when Green started in place for the suspended Antonio Gates, in 3 games he posted 15 catches for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns. Those 3 games accounted for 40% of his total yards during the season.
Green was great value for the Steelers in free agency. He is large, athletic, and his arrow is pointed up. Ben has always loved having Heath Miller to throw to – for years he was Ben’s safety net. Green is expected to carry that torch as well as bring a whole new dynamic to the tight end position for the Steelers. Yes he will likely play that safety net role like Heath in the past, but he also has the potential to be split out wide in a way Martavis Bryant was used.
Ladarius Green has every opportunity to excel in this offense. The only things that could hold him back are his injury history and all of the mouths to feed in this offense. Regardless, Green is primed for a huge 2016.
Kickers are people too. 2015 certainly was a wake-up call for Steeler fans who didn’t appreciate Shaun Suisham, for when he went down with an injury, chaos ensued. After going through 2 kickers (who will remain nameless) following the injury, the Steelers ended up with Chris Boswell.
Boswell surprised many fans. Few expected such consistency and reliability from an unknown name seemingly signed off of the street. As the season went on, he earned the trust of both fans and coaches. Us fans didn’t have to stress anytime we needed a field goal or PAT, which was refreshing after the kicking fiasco earlier in the season. Boswell demonstrated consistency by only missing 4 kicks last season, as well as his power by nailing his 2 50+ yard field goal attempts.
The arrow is pointed up for Boswell for the 2016 season. An offseason to properly train and condition with the team gives him a high ceiling. Though he may not have a cannon leg like some kickers in the league, he is certainly capable of proving to be one of the most accurate and consistent kickers in the league.
Last but not least, we have the player with potentially the biggest upside on this list. Bud Dupree has a very high ceiling, but also a modest floor. During his rookie year in 2015 he received an abundance of playing time, but failed to make a significant impact. Believe it or not, Dupree was even voted as one of the worst edge rushers in 2015 by Pro Football Focus. Though us fans had hope for Dupree entering the season, we all knew he was a very raw player upon being drafted at pick #25.
Dupree’s growth is pivotal for this defense. Though the teams sack total increased in 2015 to 48 after only posting 33 in 2014, a significant portion of these came from the defensive line rather than the edge rushers. If you watched the Denver Broncos in the 2015 playoffs, it is clear how impactful a dominant edge rusher can be. James Harrison, Arthur Moats, and Jarvis Jones all appeared to have plateaued in their playing ability; Dupree is the only player capable of transcending their 2015 play and significantly improving. Though Kieth Butler is smart and creative enough to compensate for the lack of presence at edge rusher, which we witnessed in 2015, a premier edge rusher would elevate this defense.
Dupree has the athleticism and measurables to be a dominant edge rusher in this league, there’s no question about that. His issues lie in his technique and “above the neck” play. Only time will tell if Dupree is able to put these pieces together, but if he does, he could be in for a huge 2016 season.