By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and reports surfaced over the weekend regarding optimism for the Pittsburgh Steelers surrounding the availability of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the start of the 2020 season. At face value, this is positive news. However, it’s been many months since Roethlisberger’s elbow injury, and the need to emphasize confidence in Roethlisberger’s health is concerning. As evidenced by Pittsburgh’s offensive struggles without Roethlisberger in 2019, his health is paramount to the team’s success. Of course, a healthy Roethlisberger in Week 1 does not guarantee a healthy Roethlisberger in Week 17.
A by-product of New Orleans selecting interior offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz in the first round of last month’s draft is that it made veteran guard Larry Warford expendable. Though a solid player, Warford was released by the Saints over the weekend in a move that will save approximately $7 million in cap space for New Orleans. Ruiz now projects to be a starter in Week 1 for the Super Bowl-hopeful Saints. There’s often a stark learning curve for rookie offensive lineman, and Ruiz’s ability to handle the transition will be a significant determinant for New Orleans.
Warford will not be out of work long, however. There are a multitude of teams in desperate need of help along the offensive line, and many suitors for Warford’s services have already emerged. The Chicago Bears and Houston Texans have already been linked to Warford, and more teams figure to enter into the bidding for the 29-year old veteran. Warford is hardly a superstar, but he represents a sizeable upgrade for teams looking to improve along the interior of the offensive line.
Veteran left tackle Jason Peters, likely a future Hall of Famer, remains out of work. Injuries have marred Peters’ ability to churn out a full 16-game slate in recent years, but he remains an incredibly useful blind-side protector at 38 years of age. Peters is unlikely to return to the Eagles given the presence of Andre Dillad. There are many teams for which Peters would represent an upgrade at left tackle, and he is worth the investment despite his lengthy injury history and age.
Heading into last month’s draft, plenty of attention went to defensive star Isaiah Simmons for his incredible versatility. Equally deserving of notice is Xavier McKinney, who was nabbed by the New York Giants in the second round. While listed as a safety, McKinney shines as a position-less defender. Equally adept against the run as he is against the pass, McKinney has also shown talent as a pass rusher. McKinney’s ability to produce all over the field will be a massive boon to the ongoing rebuild of the New York Giants.
Another rookie defender poised to see a big role in 2020 is Jaylon Johnson of the Chicago Bears. Likely going to be a base-package starter, Johnson is probably going to prove to be a steal for the Bears. Despite being a first-round prospect, Johnson slid to Chicago at pick 50. Playing opposite Kyle Fuller will allow Johnson to ease into the professional game, but long-term, he projects to be a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback. The Bears are once again going to be a team reliant on its defense to win games, and now Chicago boasts a pair of viable corners to support the Khalil Mack-led pass rush.
On Friday, the ideal circumstances gifted to rookie running back J.K. Dobbins was discussed. Today, that honor falls on D’Andre Swift, who was selected by the Detroit Lions with the third pick of the second round. Detroit has been fruitlessly searching for a reliable running back for seemingly a decade-plus, and the Lions have to be excited about Swift’s potential. Swift possesses tremendous speed, but his other traits are equally impressive. Unlike many college backs, he has shown a deft ability to pass protect, a quality that pairs with his pass-catching ability to make him a legitimate three-down back in the modern NFL. With Detroit likely to feed him touches this season, Swift is a sneaky bet to emerge as a candidate for the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award.