When entering training camp everything is fresh and new. The feeling that any team can win the Super Bowl and that any player can make a roster is in the air. The Steelers saw their ups and downs throughout the preseason and have made roster changes along the way. Some players emerged unexpectedly and other players the team were relying on let them down. It is safe to say that few would have been able to predict the Steelers’ opening day roster immediately following the NFL draft.
With that said, who were the Steelers who particularly impressed during the preseason?
Pittsburgh Steelers Breakouts of the Preseason
Eli Rogers is the huge winner of the past month. Entering year two Rogers went from a fringe roster player competing with rookie DeMarcus Ayers for a roster spot to a starting slot wide receiver. He essentially has jumped Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey in terms of relied on receivers entering the season. He is also the starting punt returner. Rogers shows that hard work always pays off; he went from a practice squad player to the injured reserve list to a starting wide receiver on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 12-month span.
Early in the offseason there was a slight knock on the Steelers offensive line. Many would say it is close to being a complete unit, but has a glaring hole at left tackle—arguably the most important line spot. The Steelers entered camp having to decide between Villanueva, a player who has less than two years of experience playing tackle at all, or Ryan Harris, a career swing tackle. It did not take long for Villanueva to earn the job. On top of that, he has looked every bit of a solid left tackle in the NFL. The questions are starting to die down and those who have watched have noticed that Villanueva will not be a weak link on the Steelers offensive line.
Hargrave was a third-round pick from South Carolina State in the 2016 NFL draft. He came from a small school, but had dominated his competition for two years and stands out immediately on tape. Hargrave had the look, but how much could he give as a rookie with the major leap in competition? The answer looks like a lot. Hargrave will rotate in on nickel situations as a pass rusher and as a nose tackle in the base defense to stop the run. He is likely to see around 20 snaps per game, and by the end of the season should take the starting tackle job over Daniel McCullers. The hype train is here for Hargrave and his future in black and gold. Jump on now.
L.J. Fort showed extremely well in the preseason and his instinct and knack for finding the ball stood out. He entered the preseason behind Steven Johnson on the depth chart and fighting with rookie Tyler Matakevich for a roster spot. However, in the final two preseason games, Fort ran beside Vince Williams as the second set of inside linebackers, leaving Johnson and Matakevich as the third string. Fort was in on 10 tackles in the fourth game and by all indications Fort has assured himself a roster spot and has deserved it with what he has shown on defense.
Dangerfield is another player who entered camp on the outside of the roster bubble. While it took a Ross Ventrone injury to really open the door for Dangerfield, Dangerfield burst in that door. He is what every Steelers fan loves in a safety—a hard hitter who wants to finish plays. He plays with intensity and an ability to find the ball. He also has special teams value and seems to be a surefire player to make the 53-man roster. If he can show what he did early on, he may carve a name into the roster for a few years to come.