On Wednesday I dropped my first edition of the Steelers stat projections and now today I will unveil the second edition. There has been a slight change in plans, though. This article will include the stat projections for the front seven and then next Wednesday I will drop the third edition, which will include secondary and special teams projections. Here are the front seven stat projections.
Projections: 47 Tackles, 2 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 PD
Steve McLendon may be too small to be a traditional 3-4 0-technique nose tackle, but with Cam Thomas now on the roster they can effectively split the duties. Since the nose tackle only plays 30% in LeBeau’s defense, Thomas can play in short yardage packages and McLendon can play in base, nickel, and dime packages. Expect McLendon to excel if this is his new role because it will eliminate his lack of size from the discussion. I have confidence he will have a career year in 2014.
Projections: 23 Tackles, 0.5 Sack, 1 FR, 1 PD
Under absolutely no circumstance is Cam Thomas a capable starter at this point in his career, but he is certainly capable of being a part time role player. Thomas excels as a run defender and would be perfect for short yardage situations at nose tackle while McLendon mans the defensive end position. For anyone who his going to try and say that the Steelers plan to play Thomas at defensive end, I don’t believe for a second that he is capable of that.
Projections: 64 Tackles, 6 Sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 6 PD
Cam Heyward turned the light on last season when he showed the potential that the Steelers were hoping he would realize when they drafted him. The second half of last season was the first time that Heyward saw full playing time and that trend should continue this season. Barring another defensive lineman having an unexpectedly great season, Heyward should be the Steelers’ best defensive lineman by far. I fully expect him to better his career bests that he posted last season.
Projections: 36 Tackles, 3 Sacks, 1 FF, 2 PD
I’m not a particularly big fan of Stephon Tuitt and I think the Steelers over-drafted him, but he is as good of a fit for the Steelers’ defense as any player in the draft. I don’t think he will have a huge immediate impact but I think he will be the primary defensive end opposite Cam Heyward in the base 3-4 defense. He isn’t a good pass rusher by any means but he does do an exceptional job of stacking and shedding defenders when playing the run.
Projections: 11 Tackles, 0.5 Sacks
Out of all of the Steelers’ picks and undrafted free agents that were brought in this past weekend Mauro is by far my favorite. When the team singed Mauro they got a fourth round talent in the “eighth round”. Mauro should be able to come in and contribute immediately as a part time player. If for some reason two of the Steelers starting defensive linemen get injured I expect Mauro to be able to come in and start without missing a beat. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, though.
Projections: 3 Tackles
Arnfelt was brought in as an undrafted free agent after the 2013 draft and spent most of last season on the practice squad. At the end of the season he was called up to the active roster, and while he didn’t rack up any statistics, I believe he will return to the roster this year. Arnfelt doesn’t have the high potential of fellow sophomore player Nick Williams, but he is a very solid player in his own right and at this point in their careers he’s a better player.
Projections: 66 Tackles, 10.5 Sacks, 3 FF, 1 FR, 2 PD
Jason Worilds had his coming out party last and year and the Steelers felt compelled to sign him to slap the transition tag on him. Worilds has had injury issues for pretty much his entire career and it isn’t a sure thing that he will be able to get over them, but if he does he will certainly be a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully Worilds can stay healthy and when paired with Jarvis Jones, can remind Steeler fans of the Harrison & Woodley pairing that was so near to our hearts.
Projections: 54 Tackles, 7 Sacks, 1 FF, 2 FR, 4 PD
The second year first round pick had a disappointing rookie season last year. The main issue was that he lacked the strength needed to succeed as a 3-4 outside linebacker. If he succeeded at bulking up this offseason he has a very good chance of bettering his rookie season on the way to a successful sophomore campaign. Now that there is an established number one option who doesn’t suffer from chronic soft tissue injuries on the team, Jones will benefit from the decreased attention that he sees.
Projections: 34 Tackles, 2.5 Sacks, 1 FR, 1 PD
When Moats was brought in this offseason it was unclear what position he would play. After the Steelers front office brought in Ryan Shazier and Jordan Zumwalt to play inside linebacker during the draft, it is clear that they think of Moats as an outside linebacker. Moats should quickly help to solve the lack of depth that existed at outside linebacker before his signing. Moats is a find ball, get ball type of player which is exactly what Dick LeBeau wants from his outside linebackers.
Projections: 9 Tackles
Carter has been a major disappointment ever since showing promise in his first few years after being a fifth round pick. This is his last year under contract and unless he can show substantial improvement don’t expect him to be back for 2015.
Projections: 137 Tackles, 3.5 Sacks, 2 FF, 2 FR, 6 PD
The best things for Lawrence Timmons that happened over the offseason was the improvement of the defensive line and the addition of a 3 down linebacker next to him. If the defensive line can occupy blockers and Ryan Shazier can distract half of the attention that is paid to off the ball linebackers, then Timmons should put up some of his highest numbers of his career in the 2014 season. He will continue to put up 100+ tackle seasons for the foreseeable future.
Projections: 97 Tackles, 6 Sacks, 1 FF, 3 FR, 5 PD
Shazier shouldn’t have any competition to be the Steelers’ top performing rookie this season. He is the Steelers second best inside linebacker on the roster and should have a starting job locked up if he can play adequately in training camp. Shazier provides and athletic, 3-down linebacker who plays sideline to sideline, can rush the passer, defend the run, and play in coverage. He will be music to Steelers fans ears who have been hoping for a star linebacker opposite Timmons since Farrior’s retirement.
Projections: 44 Tackles, .5 Sacks, 1 FF
Multiple times this offseason members of the Steelers management said that they thought Vince Williams could be a starter in the future. They obviously didn’t think he could be because they drafted Shazier in the first round. Williams can play as a run defender and even as a pass rusher but he has no future in coverage or as a 3 down linebacker unless he makes major improvements.
Projections: 17 Tackles, 1 Sack
Zumwalt was an extraordinary pick in the sixth round. He presented great value, but unfortunately he comes into a full stable of inside linebackers. He shouldn’t get immediate playing time, but if he is able to eventually work his way into the starting lineup he could turn into a good one.
Projections: 6 Tackles, 1 PD
Spence has dealt with a combination of injuries so far during his career that has kept him out of the lineup for his entire career up to this point. Even if he is able to stay healthy for the entire season don’t expect him to put up any major stats. He is basically a rookie coming into this defense.