The 2017 season is now a little over three months away so it’s time to make some bold predictions regarding the Steelers. There are lots of reasons for optimism heading into the new season, but there are also a few causes for concern. One things for sure, this team will not lack for excitement one way or the other this upcoming season.
- Bud Dupree will lead the NFL in sacks – That’s right Steeler fans this team will actually produce a top shelf pass rusher for the first time in what seems like an eternity. Dupree’s injury last pre-season set his development back some. Once he got back though, he showed flashes of what might be to come in 2017. He managed 4.5 sacks in less than half a season, and looked every bit the part of a menacing pass rusher. During the offseason Dupree attended Chuck Smith’s famed pass rushing camp where he drew rave reviews. All signs point to a big breakout season for the talented linebacker. Expect 15 sacks minimum, and the league sack title this season.
- Martavis Bryant will lead the team in receiving and touchdowns – Everyone, including the Steelers, underestimated the impact of not having Bryant would have on the offense last year. The passing game struggled the entire campaign, leading the offense becoming more and more reliant on Le’veon Bell’s rushing to keep it afloat. We all know that Bryant is a physical freak at 6′ 4″ with blazing speed. Add to that, now he appears to be in tremendous shape as evidenced by the workout videos he has posted. With his focus apparently all on football now, and a chip on his shoulder, get ready for a monster year from Martavis Bryant. So much so he will eclipse Antonio Brown as the team’s number one receiver.
- This will be Keith Butler’s final season with the Steelers – The glaring weakness of the Steelers over the last several seasons is the defense. This trend started before Butler took over as defensive coordinator, and has continued unchanged ever since. In fairness, the club has not exactly given him Pro-Bowl caliber players in which to work with during his tenure. The absence of any competent pass rusher has made Butler’s job difficult to say the least. 2017 should be much different with Bud Dupree, James Harrison and rookie TJ Watt manning the outside linebacker positions. The problem that will ultimately sink him is the secondary. The Steelers have been very open about their desire to transition to more man coverage going into this season. This transition promises to be a messy one to say the least. Butler’s defenses have been infamous in their lack of cohesiveness especially in the secondary. Confusion and missed assignments are not uncommon in the Butler era. The thought of a completely new philosophy with a slew of new players is an unsettling one to say the least. This new strategy on defense is sure to have major growing pains, and those pains will ultimately cost Butler his job.
- Jesse James and Xavier Grimble will make us forget Ladarius Green ever existed – Jesse James might be one of the most underrated players in Steelers history. The reason for this is he’s following the best tight end in Steeler history in Heath Miller. That’s a tough act for any tight end to follow, especially one he plays in a very similar way. While James probably will never be the blocker that Miller was, he is every bit as good a receiver. His blocking did improve in 2016 however, and continued improvement in that area will make him a valuable piece to this offense. Xavier Grimble showed some glimpses of what could be a very exciting “move” tight end. He seems to have all the physical tools to become an interesting weapon, and with Green gone there should be ample playing time. Both these tight ends will benefit from acres of space created by all the weapons at wide receiver. Look for big seasons from both as they will lead us to ask the question …..Ladarius who?
- Ryan Shazier will (*) be the defensive player of the year – Notice the asterisk in that statement? It’s there because of the one thing we always have to be wary about whenever talking about Shazier, and that’s injuries. He has missed quite a few games due to injury in his young career. A fully healthy year could mean big things from this Steelers linebacker. The speed he has at inside linebacker is unmatched anywhere in the NFL. He’s so fast in fact, that he sometimes struggles to make tackles because his speed causes him to over run plays at times. Shazier is primed to have his biggest year to date. Double digit sacks and as many as six interceptions is not out of the question. The only thing that would hold him back is…… well we all know the answer to that.