It’s easy to look at the Steelers and figure out who their most important players are. There are plenty of rankings out there of the top players at this position or that position. But here’s a look at the Steelers’ most important 10 players heading into the 2017 season.
10. Maurkice Pouncey - Pouncey is the heart and soul of the offensive line. It’s an excellent group and there are solid backups. But Pouncey’s athleticism allows the Steelers to do things they can’t if B.J. Finney - as solid as he is - is at center.
9. Alejandro Villanueva - Typically, a left tackle would be much higher on a list such as this. But with young Jerald Hawkins waiting in the wings, the Steelers like their backup situation. It’s a big sticking point in the negotiations between the team and Villanueva. If they invest long-term in Villanueva, Hawkins might not have a spot here beyond his first contract.
8. James Harrison - Rookie T.J. Watt looks like a player. But he’s unlikely to open the season in anything more than a time share with Harrison. Harrison isn’t going to post double-digit sack totals any longer. But he still sets the edge better than anyone. And he’ll put fear in opposing quarterbacks.
7. Martavis Bryant - This offense should be explosive with Bryant on the field as another weapon. He’s in great shape and looks hungry. And as we saw at times last season, the Steelers’ other receivers couldn’t sustain the No. 2 role behind Antonio Brown.
6. Bud Dupree - The Steelers got by without Dupree for the first half of last season when he was out with a groin injury. But he should be a double-digit sack guy this year and the Steelers don’t currently have anyone capable of filling that role. They need Dupree on the field.
5. Antonio Brown - Brown’s a big part of this offense and will remain so. But with Bryant back and young Ju-Ju Smith-Shuster now on the roster, the Steelers could get by a little better if Brown were to miss some time.
4. Artie Burns - Burns isn’t the Steelers’ best defensive player. But he’s a player on the rise who doesn’t have a backup capable of playing anywhere near the same level. That makes him pretty important.
3. Le’Veon Bell - With DeAngelo Williams gone - and now doing professional wrestling - the Steelers are largely unproven behind Bell. And Bell is the single-most dangerous player in this offense.
2. Ryan Shazier - With Lawrence Timmons having moved on, the Steelers no longer have Vince Williams to come off the bench. He’s in the starting lineup. And Shazier showed in the second half of last season, he’s a difference maker. Anyone who replaces him can’t make the same impact.
1. Ben Roethlisberger - There’s no doubt Roethlisberger, even though he isn’t what he once was, is the player the Steelers can least afford to lose for an extended period of time.