Well we’re three games deep into the preseason and some players are standing out. We’re seeing some trends we may have expected: Pass defense looks bad, offense is amazing, Ben/Bell/Brown/Heyward all performing well, injuries galore. But there’s also a handful of players who are performing better than you might have expected.
So here’s the criteria. Essentially I’m looking at players who are outperforming where your expectations may have been. Your expectations may have been that they would do well, it may have been that they would not, as long as the performance beats the most reasonable expectation. Put them on the list.
Essentially, take where they were last season. Imagine that ‘next step’, whether that’s Pro Bowl potential or just a functional NFL player, imagine the skills and adjustments they would need to be at that ‘next step’ relative to last year, and how much further ahead they are is what we’re looking at.
Ok? Let’s dive in.
Ready to Go
These are the guys who’ve really done better than you thought. These are the guys that are making your recalibrate what you expect from them based on the past 3 weeks.
Ryan Shazier – First, it’s a relief to have a defensive player here, because frankly we need more of them. Shazier has been all over the field this preseason. He’s been getting a lot of reps and doing well with them. He’s utilized his speed to get around blocks but he’s also playing stronger and more instinctual. No more arm tackles.
Shazier is intended to be the linebacker of the future. It’s no coincidence that the Steelers drafted Shazier, a linebacker who runs a sub 4.4, and they’re also transitioning to a Cover-2, a defense that requires a fast middle linebacker to cover the entire middle of the field. It’s excellent to see him with that fire he so obviously has out there.
Dri Archer – Dri Archer was pretty much a non-factor last year. You don’t expect a third round pick to dominate by any means but you expect more than you got from Archer. This preseason at least Archer’s place on the team is starting to become a little more clear. He’s got the plays down better but he’s also more patient.
He’s no longer just taking the ball and trying to run past/away from everyone. He’s actually running the ball. Whether on kickoff returns or runs or caught passes, he’s looking around the field and looking for lanes, rather than seeing a blur of large men and trying to use his speed to avoid it all together.
Markus Wheaton – Everyone expected Wheaton to be solid. He was solid last year, so why not this year? He’s better than solid though. He’s adjusting to make tough catches. His routes are very good. His chemistry with Roethlisberger has been obvious, where before it was not.
This offseason everyone was talking about Bryant, how Wheaton, as capable as he is, is obviously going to be the 3rd WR by the start of the season or shortly after. That’s not so clear anymore. It’s true Bryant has some wild tools but Wheaton is neither short nor slow, and now he’s grabbing tough catches, running great routes, and has solid chemistry with the QB.
DeAngelo Williams – DeAngelo Williams has been doing very well running the ball this preseason. He’s had some good solid runs. His yards per carry has been consistently good as well. We all know Williams is good, he’s not exactly new to the game, but he’s getting older and he was injured much of last season. Well this enthusiastic new addition to the Steelers looks ready to play ball.
What I was looking for was for Williams to show he could run while Bell is out. Basically, is he better than Ben Tate on one weeks practice? Pretty low bar. His performance thus far has convinced me he’s not just good enough to prevent any offensive disasters the first two games but even when Bell comes back they could make a dangerous 1, 2 punch.
Shamarko Thomas – Shark has had a couple downs this preseason. But really, he hadn’t been given the reps you’d expect someone to have if they’re obviously being groomed to replace Troy Polamalu. So I can’t blame him for a hiccup here and there, that’s what preseason is for.
That being said, I can see it. Especially last game when he was teamed up with Mike Mitchell. He’s got speed, and he’s not afraid to hit. He’s dangerous on a blitz. He might not be at his full potential yet, but I’m less skeptical about Shamarko Thomas as our starting strong safety than I was before.
Martavis Bryant – Bryant is showing signs of being a more complete receiver. Now you might look at the highlight touchdown of week 1 (2 for the Steelers) and say what more can you ask for. Well, we know he’s tall, and we know he’s fast.
We know he can run in a straight line down the field and outrun his corner and catch it with no one around. We know he can stand in the endzone and jump higher than his corner and come down with the ball. But can he run routes and make tough catches? Signs point to yes thus far, the concentration on the blooper/tip play last game shows that.
Landry Jones – I know, I know … I know. You might not like him here. Maybe it’s because my expectations have gotten so low. Maybe because it’s becoming increasingly clear that Landry Jones is going to be our 3rd string QB once again and I’m finding ways to cope with that.
Jones looked ok last game. I don’t mean he looked good the whole time, but one bad mistake didn’t lead to a dozen more. He seemed poised and confident, and that’s why we won the game.
Well Now I Know Who That Is
Shakim Phillips – Phillips has been back and forth. His forth however has been enough to make him stand out. He’s had his share of drops. But he’s had some pretty good looking catches as well. Certainly enough to show there’s something to work with. CJ Goodwin could be on the list as well. Those two are competing for a practice squad spot.
Ian Wild – Wild indeed. This young fella has certainly made a name for himself. Early in the Hall of Fame game I remember asking myself, who’s this guy? He’s gotten sacks, plenty of tackles. Wild is currently practicing at safety and linebackers, and you know Tomlin likes versatile players.
Alejandro Villanueva – There’s been a lot of buzz around Villanueva this offseason and his preseason performance has shown he deserved it. The guy has a pretty interesting background too if your care to look into it. He could potentially jump Mike Adams as backup tackle.
Tyler Murphy – Here’s another versatility guy. He played QB in college but has been playing WR for the Steelers most of the time. The last game in particular he really showed he’s capable of bring the ball down and getting yards after the catch.
This is just a sample, there’s certainly other players that could be on the list. What do you think? Has anyone stood out to you Steeler Nation?
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