With the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 season in the books, our attention shifts to the off-season. We will review each position group for the Steelers, and look into how it may change going from 2016 to 2017. For this edition, we will look at the safeties.
Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Positional Overview: Safety
The Steelers had a traditionally good year at the safety position. They saw veteran leadership in free safety Mike Mitchell take on a brand new level of success during his third season in a Steelers uniform.
Mitchell’s only two real costly slip-ups on the year happened in the week nine matchup against Baltimore when he missed a tackle on Steve Smith Sr. and fell victim to a Mike Wallace stiff-arm that led to a 95-yard touchdown, the difference in the 21-14 loss.
He also allowed a 34-yard Tom Brady pass into Chris Hogan‘s hands for a touchdown in the AFC Championship game. It wasn’t the game defining touchdown, but it didn’t help the Steelers’ case in terms of a comeback.
Sean Davis, the Steelers’ second round pick last season, became a great option for the Steelers in their defensive backfield. He struggled early on with tackling but became a noticeably better football player as the season progressed.
Davis’ lowest point came in the game against the Dallas Cowboys that set up the Steelers’ winning streak to finish the season. When attempting to tackle Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, Davis inadvertently grabbed Witten’s facemask which put the Cowboys in field goal position until running back Ezekiel Elliott punched the ball into the end zone anyway.
For a rookie who was expected to struggle in his first season as a player in the NFL, Davis was nothing short of outstanding. He was voted rookie of the year by his teammates over first round choice Artie Burns.
Behind Davis and Mitchell were two very shallow replacements in Shamarko Thomas (2 career games started) and Robert Golden (11 career games started). Both are perennial backups who have struggled when given the opportunity to play. Neither were much of a factor this season.
Mitchell and Davis are almost assured the starting spots heading into 2017 barring injury or some unforeseen circumstance. Their play this season warranted an easy decision as it helped solidify the safety position for the first time since Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark patrolled the Steelers defensive backfield.
The backup position is a bit more curious. Thomas is a free agent and it doesn’t seem likely he’ll get anymore chances here in Pittsburgh. Golden isn’t the most formidable backup as the Steelers would probably be better served going in a different direction if at all possible at that spot.
The Steelers won’t be looking to refine their safety position through free agency. The safety draft class upcoming looks deep on paper. You can never have too much depth.
The Steelers don’t need to spend a pick on a safety in the top two rounds by any means. Mitchell is still under contract for two more seasons. He could become a cap casualty next season if the Steelers really need to make a move to release him, they may.
Drafting a safety to groom under Mitchell for a few seasons at the free safety position isn’t a horrible idea. Looking to the late rounds to draft a strong safety to replace Thomas and sit beneath Davis would benefit the Steelers as well.
Going forward, the Steelers have their tandem for next season and potentially 2018. After that, there are some question marks.