The Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 season ended in disappointing fashion, losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. For a team that was expected to compete for the Super Bowl, there’s no way to categorize this season but as a failure. There were many bright spots, though. Let’s look at the grades for each position:
Ben Roethlisberger started the year shaky; through the first 5 games he threw for 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. The low point was when he threw for 5 interceptions against the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 5. But he turned it on after that ended the year with 28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 4251 yards passing, good for 5th best in the league. So much for talk of him being washed up. Plus he was mostly healthy all season. Landry Jones only played in one meaningless game at the end of the season.
Le’Veon Bell also started the season slow but that was because of his decision to not attend training camp due to a contact dispute. It wasn’t until week 4 in Baltimore that he returned to form, rushing for 144 yards on 35 carries. He ended the season with 321 rushes for 1291 yards, almost winning the rushing crown. He was also a beast as a receiver, getting 85 receptions for 655 yards. It can be argued that he’s a top-3 back.
James Conner barely played, getting 32 carries for 144 yards before getting hurt in his rookie year. Stevan Ridley was picked up as a free agent late and played in 1 game.
Years from now, people will wonder how a team with so much talent didn’t at least make it to the AFC Championship game. They had a top-5 quarterback, top-3 running back and the best wide receiver in football in Antonio Brown. Brown had a monster year, getting 101 receptions for 1533 yards and 9 touchdowns. Grade: A+
The conventional wisdom is that rookie wide receivers don’t make an impact in their rookie year, but apparently nobody told 2nd round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster because he had a huge rookie year. He had 58 receptions for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also proved that he was a great blocker, a social media star and excellent at end zone celebrations. Grade: B+
Martavis Bryant missed all of the 2016 season due to a drug suspension so it wasn’t known how he would do this season. He did not have a good year on or off the field. On the field he had 50 receptions for 603 yards and 3 touchdowns. Off the field he demanded a trade and went on social media to complain about his role and insult his teammates. That got him suspended for 1 game. Grade: C
Jesse James didn’t have a great year – he had 43 receptions for 372 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’s just not a good number one tight end in this league.
The Steelers traded for Vance McDonald at the end of training camp and it was hoped that he would be the pass-catching tight end the Steelers needed. It didn’t work out that way as he was hurt most of the year. He ended the season with 14 receptions for 188 yards and 1 touchdown.
The offensive line only allowed 24 sacks this season, good for 6th best in the league. They were mostly intact except for right tackle Marcus Gilbert. He only played in 7 games due to injury or suspension; Chris Hubbard filled in well for him.
Cam Heyward had a monster year, with 45 total tackles and 12 sacks. Stephon Tuitt had a good year but also battled injuries. Javon Hargrave had an up and down year. Tyson Alualu was a great free agent pickup, providing good depth. Overall the line accounted for 21 of the team’s 56 sacks.
It could be said the main reason why the Steelers failed to go deeper in the playoffs is the injury to inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. He was the heart and soul of the defense, plus the defensive play caller. It didn’t help that his backup, Tyler Matakevich, was hurt too and they had to turn to Sean Spence. Spence wasn’t even on a team until December.
Vince Williams had a good year, getting 89 tackles and 8 sacks. LJ Fort and Tyler Matakevich did not play much.
The plan before the season was for James Harrison to be a ‘relief pitcher’ for first round draft pick T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. That didn’t happen was Watt had a very good rookie year, getting 54 total tackles and 7 sacks. Dupree had 6 sacks but was also asked to drop in coverage a lot. Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler wanted his linebackers to drop into coverage and Harrison was unable to do that. He barely played, had a bad attitude and was eventually released.
Joe Haden was a godsend, getting released by the Cleveland Browns in late August and signing with the Steelers. He was maybe their best player in the secondary and his impact was felt when he suffered a fractured fibula on November 12.
Artie Burns had an up and down year; at times he looked like a number one quarterback and at time he looked lost. Coty Sensabaugh filled in the Haden when he was injured but did not do well. Rookie Cam Sutton looked promising after missing the first half of the year with a hamstring injury.
Mike Hilton was a pleasant surprise. He was a training camp sensation and carried that into the regular season. He led all cornerbacks with 64 tackles, 4 sacks and 2 interceptions. Veteran William Gay provided good depth.
Sean Davis led the team with 92 total tackles, but he’ll probably be remembered for failing to cover Rob Gronkowski in their matchup against the Patriots on December 17. Mike Mitchell had an up an down year. JJ Wilcox wasn’t good even at special teams and Robert Golden didn’t play much.
The kickoff return game was lousy as it is every year. The only highlight was JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 96 yard kickoff return week 17 against Cleveland. Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers handled punt returns but they were average.
Punter Jordan Berry had an average of 43.2 yards per punt good (or bad) for 30th int the league. Chris Boswell had a spectacular year; he made 35 of 38 field goals and many of those field goals game at the end of the game to give the Steelers a win.