Heading into the 2019 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are extremely thin at a few spots on their roster. One key injury at any of these positions could end up derailing the team’s chances of making the playoffs. Here are the top five players the Steelers could not live without this upcoming season:
1. Ben Roethlisberger:
Let’s start with an easy one. It goes without saying that any NFL team that loses their starting quarterback can pretty much kiss their season goodbye. The Steelers are more vulnerable than most, having no veteran backup to speak of. Between Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph, there is exactly half of one game’s experience between them. That one half from Josh Dobbs against the Raiders last year was not very impressive either. Losing Ben Roethlisberger for any length of time would be the end of any playoff hopes for this team.
2. TJ Watt:
TJ Watt seems poised for a breakout season at edge rusher, and the Steelers desperately need it from him. Kevin Colbert basically has ignored the position two straight years in the draft, and in free agency. The team has what could be two excellent starters in Watt and Bud Dupree, but after them it gets thin. Pittsburgh does have veteran Anthony Chickillo and his seven career sacks. Let’s face it, Chickillo is on this team for his special teams ability and not his pass-rushing prowess. Kevin Colbert and company seem pretty high on former undrafted free agent Ola Adeniyi. He showed some flashes last pre-season, but now he’s being counted on as the guy should an injury occur. That’s quite a big leap of faith for a player with almost no experience to speak of.
3. Ju Ju Smith-Schuster:
Now that Antonio Brown has successfully shot his way out of town, Ju Ju Smith Schuster remains as the only proven veteran left at wide receiver for the Steelers. What comes after Ju Ju is one big question mark after another. The team could get by with the other cast of characters so long as he is on the field, but without Smith-Schuster this turns ugly very quickly. Ben Roethlisberger would be left with a journeyman in Donte Moncrief, a second year project in James Washington, and a rookie in Diontae Johnson. That is not a play-off caliber wide receiver group on its own. This team needs Ju Ju to stay healthy in the worst way.
4. Vance McDonald:
There is no position group thinner than tight end on this football team. The drop off after Vance McDonald is enormous. His primary backup Xavier Grimble has been barely squeaking onto the roster ever since joining the team. Behind Grimble is only the team’s fifth round pick from 2019 Zach Gentry. Gentry can only be considered a project at best, and would be a disaster if he were needed for any real snaps this season. This is a particularly disturbing problem when taking into account the fact that McDonald is known to be injury prone. If there is one position that the Steelers would still be thinking of adding a player to, it has to be tight end. In fact it better be.
5. Joe Haden:
Admittedly, the Steelers are in much better shape this season at corner than last. The team went out and actually spent some money on the position by adding veteran Steven Nelson. After missing at corner countless times in the draft however, the team’s depth remains an issue. Former first round pick Artie Burns is on his way out of Pittsburgh after years of poor play. Cam Sutton and Brian Allen are two more draft picks who have not panned out for Kevin Colbert. Although there is some optimism that this year’s third round pick Justin Layne could be very good, the Steelers track record has to at least cause concern. Corner is not a position the Steelers can afford an injury to if they have plans for the post-season in 2019.