The Steelers just finished their first week of padded practices, and lots of players have already had a chance to impress the coaching staff. There are still three critical weeks until the Steelers play the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, but players are already carving out their roles on the roster.
After the first week, whose stock is going up and who’s on the way down?
Stock Up: Ben Roethlisberger
This is the most crucial stock up of the entire article. Through videos and practice reports, Ben Roethlisberger’s week has gone about as well as it could have been. He has a slightly altered, albeit still compact, throwing motion and is pushing the ball with some extra zip on it this year.
Roethlisberger looks as trim as ever and has been throwing dimes in drills and the team sessions. The standout play of his week may have been his scramble away from T.J. Watt to find an open Ryan Switzer in the end zone during a two-minute drill. By all indications, Roethlisberger appears back and ready to go as good as ever in 2020.
Stock Up: Eric Ebron
In terms of a player who got all-around praise from all angles, Ebron is a guy who was hyped up consistently this week. Vance McDonald called Ebron “the missing link” while Tight Ends coach James Daniel said that Ebron has “stuff that a lot of guys don’t have.”
In practice this week, the media pool saw Ebron dust linebackers in coverage drills, including Bud Dupree, whom Ebron is working with mutually to improve his blocking. Ebron also made an impressive contested catch over Minkah Fitzpatrick that turned heads.
Mike Tomlin is challenging Ebron to work on his blocking, something Ebron wasn’t known for in previous stops in Detroit and Indianapolis. Tomlin asked Ebron if he would bring the same energy to his blocking as he does his receiving. Thus far, it seems Ebron is working and learning to get much more reliable as a blocker. With all of that in mind, the sky’s the ceiling for Ebron.
Stock Down: Wendell Smallwood
The Steelers did seem to like Wendell Smallwood coming into camp. Tomlin and Eddie Faulkner praised his experience and professionalism, but the first week did Smallwood zero favors to making the final 53-man roster.
Smallwood’s first day of backs on backers in front of the media pool was not good. He struggled and was repeatedly beaten on the day. It was only one day, but for a first impression, that was not a good one.
While making no other waves for the rest of the week, Smallwood came up with a shoulder injury after Saturday’s practice. That hurts his roster chances even more with a competitive position group pushing every day. If he wants to make the roster, he will have to get back on the field quickly and impress.
Stock Up: Chase Claypool
Chase Claypool‘s early portion of the week was a massive boost to his stock in the Steelers offense. During the first day of padded practice, Claypool made a leaping grab over Joe Haden for a touchdown, which showed off his strong hands on the play. In his press conference the day after, Haden said Claypool is “going to be a problem.”
That was not the only play Claypool made on the week, either. On Wednesday, the media pool saw Claypool made a tremendous leaping grab down the sideline and got both feet down on the play. He also caught a touchdown pass on Saturday, just adding to his already growing rapport with Ben Roethlisberger. The buzz for the rookie is continuing to grow.
Stock Down: Kerrith Whyte
Coming into training camp, to make the team, Kerrith Whyte had to show he had more in his bag than just elusiveness and great natural running ability. Those are all great, but the Steelers drafted Anthony McFarland, who also possesses those traits. Thus far, Whyte has not proven to do that.
Whyte has been beaten in backs on backers multiple times, even by safety Marcus Allen three times on Saturday. In the receiving drills against the linebackers, Whyte bobbled a ball that was subsequently picked off by Ulysees Gilbert III. To make the team, Whyte will have to show he can be the returner and improve his all-around showing thus far.
Stock Down: Mason Rudolph
At best, Rudolph had a rocky week. While his mindset was evident on Saturday, as he believes he can be a future starting quarterback in the NFL, he did struggle a good deal in the week.
Friday was a bit of a bounce-back day for him after a horrendous Wednesday. The pool report showed that on Wednesday, Rudolph did not complete a pass in his no-huddle sessions, and should have been intercepted more than a few times save for a few drops by the defense. At best, it was a lukewarm week for Rudolph, who needs to show he has taken a step forward in his progression in 2020.
Stock Up: Ulysees Gilbert III
Coming off a season that ended early for him due to a back injury, Gilbert III got a vote of confidence from the Steelers as they released Mark Barron and didn’t add anyone else through the draft. With snaps needing to be filled in sub packages, it seemed likely the athletic Gilbert III would step into that role with no regular-season NFL defensive snaps in his career.
Gilbert III, thus far, has proven that faith to be correct. Not only did he get an interception off Kerrith Whyte in the running backs versus linebackers coverage drill, but Gilbert III has registered multiple pass breakups throughout the week. While he detailed that he wants to take a mental leap, Gilbert III’s showing thus far allows his stock to rise significantly.
Stock Down: Corliss Waitman
Special teamers that are coming in for tryouts are in a precarious spot at best, given the current conditions due to the coronavirus pandemic. With no preseason games, it is harder to evaluate kicking and punting competitions, and teams will have to create competitive environments to see who can stem the tide either way.
For undrafted punter Corliss Waitman, it is that fact that lowers his stock. Danny Smith and Tomlin both were confident in the fact that they could create a competitive punter competition given the conditions. Still, with Jordan Berry already on the roster, Waitman has an uphill battle. Berry’s 300 punts as the incumbent will make him especially hard to unseat, and Smith’s comments seemed to hammer that home quite well.
Stock Up: Anthony McFarland
Anthony McFarland came into training camp with a lot of buzz from just his college tape at Maryland, and so far, he has proven that hype to be real. The former Terrapins running back continues to have an outstanding camp in the opening week. Devin Bush even called a McFarland a “really, really good running back.”
McFarland’s first day at camp included a large number of reps in the backs on backers drill, and he was described as a tough out on that day. The media pool saw McFarland hit holes with great explosiveness and burst, and even showcase a nasty dead leg cut that froze defenders.
His most impressive play of the week may have come on a flip pass. McFarland caught the pass and reversed the field to get a massive gain after the catch. On Saturday, McFarland drew Vince Williams in backs on backers, which is another ringing endorsement of confidence for McFarland from this week.
Stock Down: Derwin Gray
When the Steelers practiced on Saturday, it was JC Hassenauer that was announced as the starting right guard. With David DeCastro and Kevin Dotson, both nursing injuries, Hassenauer proved to be the third man on the interior offensive line depth chart.
That does not bode well for second-year, former seventh-round pick Derwin Gray, who is trying to find himself a spot on the roster after being on the practice squad last season. While Gray was no slam dunk to get the place Hassenauer is currently in, if anyone makes the team as a ninth offensive lineman, it would seem that guy is Hassenauer and not Gray. If Gray wants to make the 53-man roster, he will have to prove he can leapfrog Hassenauer on the depth chart.