Pitt Panthers Scott Orndoff Leads Steelers 2017 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class

The value delivered by the Steelers 2017 Draft Class won’t be known until we see whether Ben Roethlisberger stands on the dais hosting a Lombardi before he begins his “Life’s Work,” but character, or human interest stories have driven much of the narrative 2017 NFL Draft for Pittsburgh.

While rocket scientist Joshua Dobbs offers a compelling story this year, he can’t quite compare to Pitt’s James Conners battle with cancer. So perhaps it’s fitting that another Pitt Panther leads the Steelers 2017 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class.

Scott Orndoff, Scott Mr. Wonderful Orndoff, Scott Orndorff, Steelers 2017 undrafted rookie free agent class

Pitt Panther tight end Scott Orndoff leads the Steelers 2017 undrafted rookie free agent class. Photo Credit: LeClaire, USA Today via Steel City Insider

Almost as soon as they stopped announcing names form the podium in Philadelphia, the Steelers 2017 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class was announced.

Scott Orndoff, tight end, Pittsburgh 6’4” 253lbs
Terrish Webb, Safety, Pittsburgh, 5’10” 190 lbs
Nelson Adams, Defensive Tackle from Mississippi State, 6’3”287lbs
Christian Brown, Defensive Tackle, West Virginia, 6’3” 295 lbs
Ethan Cooper, Guard Indiana-Pennsylvania, 6’2” 322 lbs
Francis Kallon, Defensive End, Georgia Tech, 6’5” 295
Keith Kelsey, Linebacker, Louisville, 6’0” 233
Nick Schuessler, Quarterback, Clemson 6’3” 196 lbs
Rushel Shell, Running Back, West Virginia, 5’9” 227 lbs

Going into the 2017 NFL Draft a vocal contingent of Steelers Nation was adamant that the Steelers draft a tight end, citing concerns about Jesse James development and Ladarius Green’s concussion history. It has been rumored that the Browns jumped ahead of the Steelers to draft tight end David Njoku, although no reporting has substantiated that claim.

However, the way the draft evolved, the Steelers couldn’t pick a tight end without reaching, but Jim Wexell sees Scott “Mr. Wonderful” Orndoff, the Steelers undrafted rookie free agent tight end from Pitt, as no less than Pittsburgh’s Ace in the Hole (nod and wink to compatriots who came of age in the 80’s and understand the “Mr. Wonderful” reference.)

  • Per Wexell’s reporting, several scouts rated Orndoff as a legitimate 6th round prospect.

Wexell backs his assertion up with analysis from Kyle Crabbs of NDT Scouting:

He has good spatial awareness and the ability to beat zone coverage consistently. A reliable inline blocker, Orndoff projects favorably as a team’s TE2 where he can influence the game as a red-zone target and be relied upon in game situations to be an effective pass or run blocker.

A potential 6th round pick or not, Scott Orndoff doesn’t have an updated highlights clip on YouTube, although this one from 2015 is pretty impressive:

Assuming Green’s health holds up until opening day and James development continues as is, both are locks to make the final roster. While most fans generally ignored the Steelers decision to resign David Johnson early in free agency, the Craig Wolfley has suggested that bringing David Johnson back could be “Steelers Biggest Little Signing” of the off season because of his blocking ability and ability to supplement Roosevelt Nix at fullback as Le’Veon Bell’s lead blocker in two back formations.

If that is correct, then Xavier Grimble would be the man whom Scott Orndoff must beat to secure a roster spot.

As Always, Seeking the Next FWP, Silverback or Foster

In a lot of cities, the annual signing of the undrafted rookie free agent class is a non-event, slightly above the future-contracts signings that come immediately after a season ends. But Kevin Colbert has an uncanny knack of uncovering championship caliber talent in the NFL’s undrafted rookie free agent pool.

Former Super Bowl starters Willie Parker, Ramon Foster, Darnell Stapleton and of course James Harrison earned roster spots with the Steelers as undrafted rookie free agents.

Whether it’s thanks to Scott Orndoff or someone else, chances are you’ll see at least one of the above names again.

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Steelers Restricted Free Agent Tender to Chris Hubbard is a Low Risk No Brainer

When talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers group of upcoming free-agents, reserve offensive lineman Chris Hubbard probably doesn’t enter into most discussions among fans and the media.

But that’s the thing about backup offensive linemen in the National Football League:

  • You never know when you’re going to need them.

Such was the case for the Steelers and Hubbard early last season, when starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert and veteran backup swing tackle Ryan Harris were both lost in a 43-14 Sunday night victory over the Chiefs at Heinz Field.

Chris Hubbard, Chris Hubbard restricted free agent, Chis Hubbard tight end

Chris Hubbard lines up as a tight end in the Steelers Thanksgiving win over the Colts. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Capsule Profile of Chris Hubbard’s Steelers Career

Chris Hubbard, a 2013 undrafted rookie free-agent out of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), bounced back and forth between the team’s practice squad and active roster during 2013, 2014 and 2015 before finally finding a permanent job among the final 53 in 2016.

Its a bit ironic when you look back, as Mike Golic Jr. and Nik Embernate aka “Embernasty” got all the headlines when the Steelers 2013 undrafted rookie free agent class was announced, but four years later, it was Chris Hubbard who was suiting up for the AFC Championship game.

A versatile lineman who can play guard, center and tackle, Hubbard proved his worth against Kansas City in that aforementioned Week 4 match-up, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had perhaps his best game of the season, passing for 300 yards and five touchdowns.

With Marcus Gilbert and Ryan Harris both ruled out against the Jets seven days later, Chris Hubbard got his first career start at right tackle. The result: a more than satisfactory performance in a 31-13 Steelers victory over the Jets at Heinz Field.

  • A week later, Chris Hubbard struggled quite a bit in a 30-15 loss at Miami, as Pittsburgh also lost Ben Roethlisberger with a torn meniscus.

Chris Hubbard started two more games at right tackle before Marcus Gilbert finally returned from his ankle injury, and the young lineman would  remain the backup tackle the rest of the year, as Ryan Harris, who suffered a shin injury against the Chiefs, ultimately had to be placed on Injured Reserve.

Chris Hubbard also saw extensive spot-duty as a third tight end in the Steelers “Big Boy” package, helping David Johnson and Jesse James open holes for Le’Veon Bell.

Pro’s & Con’s of Steelers Decision to RFA Tender to Chris Hubbard

As the Steelers approach free-agency, Hubbard is of the restricted free agent, meaning the Steelers retain the right of first refusal should any other team offer Chris Hubbard a contract.

  • Will there be any offers for Hubbard, 25? Probably not. Should have tendered him a right of first refusal option (as they have) anyway?

If you were to say linemen of Hubbard’s pedigree are a dime a dozen, you would be correct. If you also were to say that Jerald Hawkins, Pittsburgh’s fourth round pick out of LSU in 2016, is someone the team probably is counting on to make strides in 2017, you are also surely correct.

  • Fact is, the Steelers seem set at both tackle positions for the near-future.

Marcus Gilbert is signed through 2019, while left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who only has two years of NFL experience and is an exclusive-rights free-agent, meaning he simply must take whatever offer Pittsburgh gives him.

A year ago Chris Hubbard was a “nice to have” type player to have on your depth chart, now he’s one play away from protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside.

Obviously, the Steelers could fill the backup tackle void with just about anyone, but why not with a player who has been in their system for some time now and also has had and will continue to have the privilege of being coached my Mike Munchak, perhaps the best in the business at what he does and certainly the most respected assistant coach on Pittsburgh’s staff.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Chis Hubbard

When you see the improvements of the likes of Marcus Gilbert and more notably Alejandro Villanueva in recent years, Chris Hubbard is certainly in good hands, and if any offensive line coach can get max out of his abilities, it’s Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

  • The Steelers have already offered Chris Hubbard a right of first refusal tender to Chris Hubbard.

Exact figures for 2017’s right of first refusal offers are suggested to be in the 1.85 million dollar range. So its doubtful that another team will try to sign Chris Hubbard away.

Its says here the Steelers made the right move in protecting Chris Hubbard. The Steelers have invested heavily in his development, and the truth is Chris Hubbard will be on someone’s roster in 2017. He he might as well be on the Steelers’ because you just never know when his services will be needed.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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4 Solutions for the Steelers 2016 Half Back Depth Deficiency

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Draft Class added both quantity and, on paper at least, talent to the team’s most glaring weaknesses on the depth chart. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin also added depth to several other key areas.

  • One area that Colbert and Tomlin failed to address was running back.

As things stand today, the Steelers 2016 running back depth promises to be dangerously thin. Here’s a look at how Colbert and Tomlin might address that need before the season.

How the Steelers Running Back Depth Got So Depleted

The Steelers 2016 Draft Needs Matrix pegged running back as the Steelers 4th most urgent area of need not because of talent issues, but because of the Steelers thin depth at running back.

Fitzgerald Toussaint has the look of a solid backup based on his playoff performances, his fumble not withstanding. After Toussaint, the Steelers have zip in terms of proven depth behind him. If Art Rooney II’s words offer any guide, the Steelers expect Le’Veon Bell to be back at full strength.

That’s fine, but in 2016 Bell will begin his fourth season on a league where the average running back’s career lasts just above three. And he’s coming off a complicated MCL, PCL injury. And he’s missed time due to injury in each of his first three seasons. running backs average less than 3. DeAngelo Williams will turn 33.

For a franchise that started its 4th string running back in 3 consecutive post-season appearances those factoids hardly encourage confidence.

  • Colbert and Tomlin know this and responded by trying to trade the 5th round.

The Steelers found no takers, at least at a reasonable asking price. So which running backs did the Steelers miss a chance to draft?

  • So which running back did the Steeler miss?

In the 5th round DeAndre Washington, Paul Perkins, Jordan Howard, Wendell Smallwood, Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins found homes with Oakland, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Seattle. In the 6th round Denver, Tampa Bay, San Diego, San Francisco, and Dallas welcomed Andy Jaovich, Dan Vitale, Derek Watt, Kelvin Taylor and Darrius Jackson (although Janovich, Vitale, Watt are listed as fullbacks.)

Surprisingly, Colorado’s Christan Powell was the only running back in the Steelers 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class, and he got cut after rookie minicamp. In contrast, the Steelers drafted no offensive lineman in the 2015 NFL Draft, yet brought 5 offensive lineman to Pittsburgh with their 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class.

Steelers Could Sign a Free Agent Running Back

Yes, the best free agent running backs have long been off the market, but teams can and do make roster moves after the draft. The website Sporttrack lists 23 free agent running backs that remain unsigned, including Reggie Bush, LeGarrette Blount and Arian Foster.

If the Steelers really were interested in adding depth at running back via free agency, they likely would have done so in March instead of waiting until May. Nonetheless, on May 12 unsigned players officially become “Street Free Agents” meaning teams can sign them without impacting their compensatory picks.

The Steelers could take advantage of that to add a body, but if they do it will likely be the type of free agent who isn’t even assured a roster spot in September.

Steelers Could Trade for a Running Back

Trades are rare in the NFL and until recently the Steelers rarely trade for another player. Yet, that has changed lately. In August 2013, Kevin Colbert traded Adrian Robinson for Felix Jones. Later that season, he traded for Levi Brown. Last summer Steelers traded for Brandon Boykin….

  • …And you can see why the Steelers prefer to avoid acquiring layers via trade.

Arguably, Felix Jones was the most productive of the three, and that’s not saying much. Levi Brown got injured in warm ups and never played a down. Brandon Boykin spelled Antwon Blake late in the season and perhaps provided an upgrade, but the Steelers think more of untested Senquez Golson than they do Boykin.

In terms of trading to build depth at running back, the Steelers actually traded for Patrick Cobbs when Duce Staley couldn’t dispel their doubts at the end of the 2006 preseason. Cobbs never played a down in Pittsburgh, although he did carry 37 times over five years in Miami….

Don’t expect the Steelers to trade for a running back.

Colbert Could Grab a Running Back from the Waiver Wire

Kevin Colbert ranks among the best NFL General Managers when it comes to finding players who can help the Steelers after they’ve been discarded by other teams. 2013’s cut down day saw the Turk visit Fernando Velasco in Nashville and Cody Wallace in Tampa Bay, but both made multiple starts for the Steelers at center later that season.

In terms of running backs, the Steelers picked Najeh Davenport off of waivers early 2006, and Davenport was a solid contributor in for two seasons. The Steelers picked up DuJuan Harris in 2012 during training camp, and he went on to contribute to Green Bay. Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint both got pink slips at the end of training camp and ended up starting for the Steelers in the playoffs.

  • One harsh reality of the modern NFL is that proven backups get cut simply because rookies offer teams more bang for their buck.

Colbert has kept many a gem from falling though the cracks of the NFL salary cap, and you’d better believe he will closely watch for running backs who reach the waiver wire all between now and September.

Steelers Stand Pat with Their Running Back Stable

Based on what we’ve seen since the 2016 NFL Draft, this appears to be the Steelers plan. Following rookie minicamp, two of the four Steelers roster moves involved replacing running backs.

While banking on undrafted rookie free agents to provide depth at running back is a roll of the dice, remember is the same franchise that saw a little known running back who hardly played in North Carolina named Fast Willie Parker go from training camp surprise in 2004 to a run from scrimmage record setter in Super Bowl XL in January of 2006.

Both Carey Davis and Gary Russell had some NFL experience prior to joining the Steelers in 2007, and while no one will ever confuse the tandem with Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris, both men helped win Super Bowl XLIII.

At the Steelers rookie minicamp, Mercyhurst’s Brandon Brown-Dukes impressed Jim Wexell, although Wexell did describe him as “diminutive.” Dale Lolley reports that Cameron Stingily, who was injured in last summer’s Hall of Fame game, is running well and looking leaner than in 2015.

  • The Steelers cut running backs Rajion Neal and Christian Powel to make room for Stingily and Brown-Dukes.

While these move come squarely at the bottom of the Steelers roster, they demonstrate that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are keenly aware Steelers running back depth needs to improve.

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Steelers Sign Running Backs Cameron Stingily & Brandon Brown-Dukes, WR Marcus Turner

The Steelers 2016 rookie minicamp opened the door to a dream come true for many, but it also resulted in the closing of a door for others. While coaches caution fans and pundits not to make too much of “football in shorts” Mike Tomlin and his staff already came to a few conclusions based what they saw during the recent rookie minicamp.

The Steelers signed running backs Cameron Stingily and Brandon Brown-Dukes, along with wide receiver Marcus Tucker and cornerback Donald Washington.

While these four men can breathe easy knowing that their lease on an NFL career will last at least until the Steelers full minicamp, if not training camp at St. Vincent’s itself, the news also meant the four other player will have to pursue their NFL dream somewhere else.

The Steelers cut wide receiver Tobais Palmer, cornerback Isaiah Frey (take it easy Game of Thrones Fans, no relation to the Trident’s Walder Frey) and running backs Rajion Neal and Christian Powell.

In Through the Out Door

“Cameron Stingily” sounds familiar it should. First, he should not be confused with recently departed free agent tackle Byron Stingily. Instead, Cameron Stingily was part of the Steelers 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class who had suffered a knee injury in last year’s Hall of Fame Game. Prior to that, Cameron Stingily saw action in 35 games at Northern Illinois University.

Marcus Tucker is from Northern Michigan, and at 5’10” and 190 will have to come in under the radar to secure a roster spot at wide receiver. Brandon Brown-Dukes is 5’8” 200 pound running back who’ll look to either secure a spot in the backfield and/or as a returner.

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Steelers 2016 Rookie Camp = Dream Come True for Many

One week after the 2016 NFL Draft, the Steelers rookie camp is being held this weekend, with members of the Steelers 2016 Draft Class, the Steelers 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class and even players invited to camp to tryout, participating in the hopes of beginning (or, in some cases, continuing) their football careers.

  • As it pertains to the drafted rookies and UDFAs, I always look at them with envy.

Why? Because, to me, they represent that moment where a person has finally “made it” with regards to his or her career. Sure, statistically, a number of these rookies will see their dreams squashed before the end of this summer’s training camp. But, right now, every single one of them has a chance to make an impression and get a leg-up on a career in the NFL.

Just picture that dream job you may already have or are still aspiring to obtain. How did you feel when you finally arrived and knew you would get your chance? If you haven’t found that job yet, just imagine how you’ll react when opportunity comes knocking.

Can you imagine having a dream of playing in the NFL and arriving for the first day of your rookie camp and talking (or, let’s face it, listening) to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, as he welcomes you to the team? I mean, this is a guy you probably watched on TV growing up as a kid. You’re old enough to remember Super Bowls XLIII and XLV. You’ve likely watched Tomlin interact with player after player on the sidelines during game; now he’s interacting with you. You’ve seen him hug his troops and chew them out.

  • This weekend, he might do one or the other (or both) to you.

Picture being the parents of one of these rookies and telling your friends that your son is beginning his dream of playing in the NFL. Can you imagine the feeling of pride they may have right now?

https://twitter.com/steelers/status/728751731144822784

As for me, a fan of the Steelers, it’s neat to think that at least one of these rookies will some day do something awe-inspiring and give me memories that last for the rest of my life.

Maybe first-rounder Artie Burns will intercept a pass in a postseason game and take it all the way to the house, clinching a trip to the Super Bowl (think Troy Polamalu in the 2008 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field). Maybe one of these UDFAs will beat the odds, establish himself as an NFL superstar and one day go on to make history in the Super Bowl (think James Harrison and his 100-yard dash in Super Bowl XLIII).

To me, as a fan who always fantasized about playing in the NFL when I was a kid, these rookies are chasing the ultimate dream. And when you think about the long-odds of any high school football player even making it to one of these camps, they’ve already achieved something special.

So whether you’re Artie Burns (first player drafted), Tyler Matakevich (last player drafted) or one of several undrafted free-agents, in a way, you’re already living a dream.

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Steelers 2016 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class Complete

With their 2016 NFL Draft Class complete, the Pittsburgh Steelers filled out the rest of their roster by signing their 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class:

Johnny Maxey, defensive line, 6-5, 283, Mars Hill
Tyriq McCord, linebacker, 6-3, 241, Miami
Will Monday, punter, 6-4, 210, Duke
Giorgio Newberry, defensive line, 6-6, 295, Florida State
Christian Powell, running back, 6-0, 235, Colorado
David Reeves, tight end, 6-5, 255, Duke
Jay Rome, tight end, 6-6, 250, Georgia
Quinton Schooley, offensive line, 6-4, 298, NC State
Canaan Severin, wide receiver, 6-2, 205, Virginia
Devaunte Sigler, defensive line, 6-3, 290, Jacksonville State

Now, will the next Super Bowl record breaker please step up? The Steelers 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class might not amount to anything, but Kevin Colbert has an uncanny knack for finding quality undrafted rookie free agents.

But the Steelers current roster boasts Ramon Foster, Robert Golden, and Roosevelt Nix who were undrafted rookie free agents, while the Steeler recently said goodbye to the likes of Will Johnson, Steve McLendon and Terence Garvin all of whom joined the Steelers as undrafted rookie free agents.

A Few Surprises in the Steelers 2016 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class

The Steelers 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class comes with a few surprises. First, the Steelers did not sign a quarterback. Given that the Steelers want and need an extra arm for rookie mini-camp in addition to training camp, that would seem to signal that the Steelers are looking to sign a veteran backup quarterback.

  • Prior to the draft, Kevin Colbert indicated the Steelers would make a roster move on quarterback after the draft.

The Steelers already have Dustin Vaughan on the roster who is seen as more of 4th arm type of quarterback than anything else. That would seem to indicate that if the Steelers want to bring in someone other than Landry Jones to backup Ben Roethlisberger, now would be the time. Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert like Brian Hoyer, but he signed a one year deal with the Bears.

So it was no surprise that the Steelers resigned Bruce Gradkowski after the draft.

  • The dearth of running backs in the Steelers 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class classifies as another surprise.

By their own admission, the Steelers wanted to draft a running back in the 5th round and where either unable to find a partner and/or unwilling to pay the price. The Steelers currently have Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Fitzgerald Toussaint which gives them 2 starter-capable running backs plus another backup. Given that, it is a mild surprise that the Steelers did not bring in more running backs.

Either these players will get a fair shot to impress their coaches and earn and NFL roster spot.

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Steelers 2016 Draft Needs @ Guard – Time to Put Depth Behind DeCastro, Foster

The Pittsburgh Steelers began their offensive line rebuilding process in 2010 by picking Maurkice Pounce with their first round pick and effectively concluded that process in 2012 when they picked David DeCastro in the first round followed by Mike Adams in the second.

After years of injury-induced turmoil on the offensive line, the Steelers appear to have learned that you can never have too many good offensive lineman on your roster. That’s a lesson well taken, but does it mean that the Steelers should make guard a high priority in the 2016 NFL Draft?

Steelers Depth Chart @ Guard Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starters

With David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, the Pittsburgh Steelers have two excellent starters at guard.

Ramon Foster made the team in 2009 as an undrafted rookie free agent, and since then he’s appeared in 102 games and started in 87 of them. Foster has been both durable and dependable, and served as an important mentor to Alejandro Villanueva after Kelvin Beachum went down. The Steelers have resigned Foster, leaving little doubt about his future in Pittsburgh.

Starting on the other side of Pouncey is David DeCastro, who after an injury marred rookie season, is developing into a the ass-kicker the Steelers envisioned when he fell to them in the 2012 NFL Draft. DeCastro has played in 51 games and has started in 50 of them. The Steelers are expected to ink DeCastro to a long term deal this off season.

Steelers Depth Cart @ Guard Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

The depth behind Foster and DeCastro is both thin and untested. Outside of Cody Wallace, who also serves as the primary backup at center, none of the players have any NFL regular season game experience to speak of.

Chris Hubbard is the team’s most experienced backup, having appeared in 7 games in 2015 and one game in 2014 after spending all of 2013 on the Steelers practice squad.

  • Behind Hubbard, the Steelers have B.J. Finney and Cole Manhart.

B.J. Finney was part of the Steelers 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class and spent the entire season on their practice squad. The Steelers signed Cole Manhart to reserve/futures contract earlier this year, and Manhart spent time in the Eagles and Saints training camps, and joined the Oakland Raider’s practice squad in December 2015.

Doug Legursky was on the Steelers roster during 2015 as a backup center but has experience at guard. However, the Steelers have shown no interest in resigning Legursky who remains a free agent.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2016

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Guard

Clearly, the Steelers are not going to invest a number one pick in a guard. Their needs simply do not justify that. The fact that Chris Hubbard is still around shows that the Steelers see something they like in him, and the Steelers have a way of developing undrafted rookie free agents into solid NFL lineman.

  • Between Foster, DeCastro and Wallace, the Pittsburgh Steelers have 3 men who can play guard in the NFL.

That’s good. But one injury can change the Steelers calculus at guard in a hurry. The Steelers needs on the defensive side of the ball are so acute that they can probably safely ignore guards in rounds 1-3, but after that they need to take a serious look at who is left on the board when their time comes.

Therefore, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 draft need at guard must be considered Moderate.

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Steelers Resign Ramon Foster to 3 Year Contract

It appears that Steelers guard Ramon Foster has found a permanent home in Pittsburgh. Just hours before he was to become a free agent, the Steelers resigned Ramon Foster to a 3 year contract.

Foster shared the following message with his followers in Instagram:

Ramon Foster turned 30 in January and while this latest 3 year contract does not ensure that he will play his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, it raises the probability exponentially. Ramon Foster’s future in Pittsburgh was one of the biggest questions the Steelers faced heading into free agency.

While the Steelers have not groomed a ready replacement, word leaked that they preferred to move Kelvin Beachum to guard.

Observers also pointed to the tendency to staff their offensive line with younger, more athletic players, and concluded that Foster didn’t match that type.

That left Foster’s fate a little vague. Would the Steelers let him test the market? Would the Steelers place their faith in Chris Hubbard and/or look to the draft to replace Foster? At the end of the day Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin provided an iunequivocal answer:

Foster’s leadership this season in mentoring Alejandro Villanueva is also something which the team valued.

Ramon Foster began with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2009 making sporadic starts that year and in 2010 and has been a fixture on the line since then. Free agency is only a few hours old, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have already resigned William Gay, Robert Golden, Darrius Heyward-Bey and now they have Foster under contract.

Interestingly enough, there has been no word on either a contract or talks with Steve McLendon, who represents the next biggest potential hole the Steelers may need to fill in free agency. Things can and will change fast….

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Steelers Fullbacks in Flux? Will Roosevelt Nix Cost Johnson His Roster Sport?

The Pittsburgh Steelers might have more difficult and more interesting free agent decisions to make in 2016, but none lends itself to such a catchy, if a bit corny, headline. All jesting aside, the “quandary” is real for Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.

This time a year ago it looked like a major injury was all that separated fullback Will Johnson from a his first full-fledged second contract. The emergence of Roosevelt Nix however changes things. Or does it. Let’s find out….?

Capsule Profile of Will Johnson’s Career with the Steelers

In the spring of 2012 Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert took a road trip south to attend West Virginia University’s pro day. If memory serves, they were going to scout another player. But a hybrid tight end, running back, and wide out who’d played for four years for the Mountaineers for four years but sat out 2011 without as much as an invite to an NFL training camp caught their eyes.

  • The Steelers brought him to Pittsburgh as an undrafted rookie free agent to play fullback.

One of Todd Haley’s first moves as Steelers offensive coordinator was to officially restore the fullback to the Steelers offense, and he tapped David Johnson to make the transition to full time fullback. Johnson unfortunately go injured in preseason; fortunately Will Johnson had impressed the coaches, and started at fullback in his place.

As a fullback Johnson doesn’t have a very long stat sheet, although he’s generally been a reliable target on the few times that Ben Roethlisberger (or Charlie Batch, Michael Vick, or Landry Jones) has chosen to throw a pass his way. He’s also rushed 8 times for 14 yards. That’s not terribly impressive, but the sample size is quite small….

A year ago the Steelers offered Johnson a restricted free agent tender, and he was back with the team in 2015, working both at fullback and at tight end.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Will Johnson

Perhaps Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell said it the best when he declared:

An easy call for me. I bring Johnson back with a cheap two or three-year contract. Versatile, smart and plays a position that’s looking at age issues.

And that was before Heath Miller retired. The fullback position is getting harder and harder to staff, and Johnson’s experience at tight end is a definitive plus.

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Will Johnson

The argument for keeping Will Johnson can be summed up, as the headline implies, it two words: Roosevelt Nix.

Like Johnson, Nix joined the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent, and during the course of the season Nix showed himself to be a capable play maker on special teams, and he performed quite well as a fullback.

  • The argument flows accordingly: Fewer and fewer NFL teams carry one fullback, how can the Steelers justify carrying two?

Roosevelt Nix can do what Will Johnson can do, but at a far lower salary cap value, and the Steelers do not have salary cap space to spare.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Will Johnson

What’s implicit in Wexell’s argument is that Will Johnson return as a tight end. In that light, Heath Miller’s retirement could be a game changer. Matt Spaeth is aging and Jesse James showed flashes but has yet to prove consistency.

  • Will Johnson isn’t going to command a lot of attention or money on the free agent market either as a tight end or as a fullback.

If the Steelers can sign Will Johnson to a cost effective contract, he could provide valuable depth at tight end while Roosevelt Nix installs himself as a full time fullback.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Steelers Free Agent Doug Legursky – Letting Legursky Walk Is Right Call. This Time…

In free agency, you rarely get do overs and the Pittsburgh Steelers are no exception. The rules of the game are clear, a team needs to decide they want a player back, make their offer and then move on.

This Steelers free agent profiles details a quasi-free agency do over and the player is Doug Legursky, whom the Steelers let go in 2013 only to welcome back three years later. Now they get to make the decision again. Should they decide differently…? Let’s take a look.

Capsule Profile of Doug Legursky’s Career with the Steelers

Doug Legursky got a foot in the door with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008. Legursky failed to make the team, but did earn a spot on the practice squad in October, where he stayed for the rest of the year.

In 2009 Doug Legursky made the team, with Mike Tomlin declaring him “This year’s Darnell Stapleton.” While that is to Legursky’s credit, in many ways Legursky is the perfect poster boy for Pittsburgh’s “Plug and Patch” approach to offensive line building during the early part of the Tomlin era.

Doug Legursky saw action in 9 games for the Steelers during 2009, mainly serving as a reserve guard, but also blocking as a fullback for Rashard Mendenhall in the Steelers Monday Night victory over San Diego. In 2010, Legrusky saw extensive action, making starts for Trai Essex during the regular season, and stepping in for injured Maurkice Pouncey in the Steelers AFC Championship game victory over the New York Jets.

  • Legursky also started for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

The Steelers intent in 2011 was to install Legursky as a starting guard, and Legursky did make several starts at guard, while also stepping in for Pouncey. In 2012 Legursky made 3 starts at guard and at center due to injuries to Pouncey and Ramon Foster. During the Steelers 2012 upset of Baltimore, Legursky started at Center while Pouncey moved to guard.

Legursky became a free agent in 2013, and the Steelers opted not to sign Legursky, despite an obvious lack of depth on the offensive line. Although they’d never admit it, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin doubtlessly felt pangs of buyer’s remorse on opening day vs. the Titans when Pounecy went down and Kelvin Beachum had to play center for the first time in his football life….

  • But Legursky was in Buffalo where he would make 11 starts during 2013.

Legrusky’s stint with the Bills only lasted one season, although he did catch on with San Diego, were he made two starts at center, before his season ended in injury. He was unemployed when Maurkice Pouncey was injured during the preseason, and returned to Pittsburgh to back up Cody Wallace.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Doug Legursky

Doug Legursky knows the Steelers offense. While he might not be starter material, his play at center has always been solid, and he can fill in at guard in a pinch. The Steelers rolled the dice with offensive line depth in 2013, and the result was Ben Roethlisberger playing some of his worst football under an unabated pass rush.

Doug Legrusky has played in 76 NFL games and made 30 starts; he’s also appeared in 6 post-season contests, and started two of them. Reserve offensive lineman with those types of resumes do not grow on trees and Legursky has always been on the roster fringe, he can only improve under Mike Munchak

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Doug Legursky

The math is pretty simple. Legursky is basically a center who can do spot duty at guard. So is Cody Wallace and the Steelers already have a significant salary cap investment in Wallace. Wallace is also better. With Maurkice Pouncey coming back, the Steelers can’t really afford to carry three centers.

Plus, it has been suggested that the Steelers might look at bringing Kraig Urbik back, another player who “got away.” Urbik is a guard who can also to duty at center, and is probably an upgrade over Legursky.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Doug Legursky

Legrusky’s return to Pittsburgh was a legit “feel good story” last summer, but it is hard to make the case that resigning Doug Legursky should be a high priority for the Steelers.

  • However, given the uncertainty the Steelers face at guard, an opening for Legursky might be found.

Should the Steelers be unable to keep both Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum, Legursky’s familiarity with the Steelers system and his position flexibility and his availability at the veteran minimum could tip the scales back in his favor.

But that presumes that the Steelers don’t find another guard in free agency or perhaps in the draft. The bottom line is, Doug Legursky can probably help the 2016 Steelers, but others can probably help more. And there’s a fair chance the he’ll still be available during the summer should the need arise.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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