About a week ago, FoxSports.com’s Alex Marvez constructed a list of N.F.L. players which could be poised have potential breakout seasons in 2012. The list had one player for each team, and Wide Receiver Emmanuel Sanders made the list as the Steelers’ representative. With Marvez’s list in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss five more Steelers’ players on the Offensive side of the ball which could be ready for breakout seasons.
1. David DeCastro
How or why the top rated Offensive Guard in The 2012 N.F.L. Draft fell to the Steelers at #24, I will never know. Still, I am not going to complain, because Offensive Guard was one of the Steelers’ biggest needs, and had been since Alan Faneca left town when the 2007 season ended. The expectations will be high for DeCastro, and the starting Right Guard spot will be his to lose. Yet I feel like the Rookie from Stanford will answer the bell, and instantly upgrade Pittsburgh’s Offensive Line. DeCastro was an absolute monster at Stanford who has the ability to dominate in the running game, can pull and trap well, hold his own extremely well in pass-protection, and even has room to add onto his ridiculously big frame (6’5″ 316 lbs.). DeCastro started 39 games over the course of his collegiate career at Stanford, and his extended experience as a Lineman in a Pro Style Offense which had a firm dedication (as well as a great deal of success) to the Run Game should not be overlooked as well. The former Cardinal was given future Hall of Famer Alan Faneca’s number #66 and will be counted on to be the rock at Right Guard for at least a decade.
2. Heath Miller
I am sure many of you readers are saying, “Heath Miller? He made the Pro Bowl in 2009. Why is he on this list? How did he make a list of breakout players?” Well, I put Heath on this list because I see him as possibly enjoying a career year with the Steelers as he enters his 8th season with the team. Hopefully, new Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley will use Miller (2011: 51 Catches, 631 Yards, 2 TD’s) in the role Ken Whisenhunt used him in during his first two seasons, and like Haley used Tony Moeaki in Kansas City during the 2010 season: a prime Red Zone target. If this is indeed the case, Miller could enjoy games like he did against the Patriots last season, except on multiple occasions in 2012. Over his first three seasons combined, Miller amassed 21 Touchdown receptions and was one of Big Ben’s most reliable Red Zone targets.
I will admit, with the emergence of Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and the other Wide Receivers, Miller’s targets have gone down over the last couple seasons in scoring situations, as well they should. Still, the fact that a 6’5” 265 lb. mammoth of a man that can run with Safeties and has the best hands on the team should not be catching only 2 TD’s per season (4 over the last two). Because of the explosiveness of Wallace and Brown, Miller will likely be singled up or an afterthought when teams key on those two. Pittsburgh needs to make these teams pay, and Miller could be a huge benefactor.
3. Isaac Redman
With Rashard Mendenhall sidelined for likely the first half of the season, and almost zero experienced depth behind him, Isaac Redman will get his opportunity to put a stranglehold on the “RB1” position. Redman set career highs in Rushing Yards (479), Carries (110), and Rushing Touchdowns (3) last season, and should be one of the hungriest players on the team to carry over some positive momentum from 2011 into 2012. Much like Fast Willie Parker, Redman is a former Undrafted Free Agent. And much like Fast Willie, Isaac earned his way onto this roster due to grit, hard work, and developed his skills on the Practice Squad for an extended period. Granted, I see Chris Rainey as the team’s eventual 3rd Down Back, and he will likely force Redman off the field in those situations this season because of his explosive and pass-catching skill-set. Yet as I stated before, Redman finally has his chance, and for a determined Undrafted Free Agent like him, any open window to shine will be met with 100% effort, and a white-knuckle grip on the job with a “take on all comers” attitude.
4. Emmanuel Sanders and/or Jerricho Cotchery
I know this is cheating a little bit, because the title reads “5 Steelers,” yet the player which will have a breakout season will be the winner of the battle between Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery for The #3 Wide Receiver slot. I’ve stated it many times, but Heath Miller and the slot WR’s this season could enjoy enormous seasons due to the attention which opposing Defenses must pay to Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown respectively. The middle of the field will likely be open because of both speedsters outside the numbers, and the Steelers can eat Secondaries alive with mismatches on the inside.
Sanders (2011: 22 Catches, 288 Yards, 2 TD’s) and Cotchery (2011: 16 Catches, 237 Yards, 2 TD’s) are both intelligent and savvy route-runners, both have solid athletic ability, and most importantly, both have reliable hands. The only big issue with these two players will be their collective healths, because both were dinged up last season and only late in the year appeared to contribute on a regular basis. If you can remember back to 2010, Sanders emerged as a steady target for Big Ben as the season progressed, and health permitting, he could resume that role in 2012. If not, the veteran Cotchery can fill in and do an adequate job and pick up those tough 1st Downs to keep drives alive. Plus, with a full offseason to learn the new Offense and work with Ben under his belt, Cotchery could revert back to his successful ways in the slot like when he was with the Jets.
5. Mike Adams
The second Willie Colon came public with the news that he was moving to Left Guard, two thoughts crossed my mind: 1. Yahoo! Colon is moving to his more natural position. 2. It is now time to see massive (6’7″ 323 lbs.) Rookie Mike Adams in action. Adams will definitely have his plate full because it is not common for many Rookies to start at Left Tackle for a contending team in Week 1 of the season. Still, the Steelers must have supreme confidence in Adams and the hope that he cleaned up his act off the field, because he will likely be answering the bell Week 1 now.
In terms of pure talent and athletic ability, only Matt Kalil of Southern California in my opinion was a better Left Tackle prospect than Adams in this past April’s Draft. Adams had a good deal of experience at Left Tackle at the college level (23 starts), and most importantly could have a chip on his shoulder for the rest of his career due to where he was drafted. If Adams is motivated enough to play for his hometown team and prove all his doubters and detractors wrong, look out, because the Steelers might have found a blind-side protector for Ben.
Well Steelers fans, this is my list. Now it’s your turn: Let me know which Offensive players you think will be ready to contribute in a big way next season. Do you think I’m right with some of these players? Or are there others I might have overlooked? Give me a heads up, and tell me why.
Statistics Courtesy of Steelers Team Page on ESPN.com
DeCastro & Adams Heights & Weights Courtesy of Team Roster on Steelers.com