The final week of the preseason continues with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Carolina Panthers. This is the last chance for many players to make their case to be on the opening season roster, whether it be as a role player, as part of a position rotation, or as a special teams player. Our team of PFF analysts have all the most important position battles and players to watch for each team:
Coverage by: Mike Manning
Position Battle: Knile Davis/Terrell Watson, third RB
- The Pittsburgh Steelers should have Le’Veon Bell for the season opener and rookie James Conner has looked good this preseason. But the two running backs that got the most work against the Colts were Knile Davis and Terrell Watson. Watson leads the Steelers backs in yards after contact per attempt with 2.27, while Davis is second on the team at 2.27. Davis’ six forced missed tackles this preseason on only 17 touches are more than the five other backs combined.
- While Davis has been contributing on special teams, Watson has shown off his receiving ability with a receiving grade of 73.9 this preseason. That is second on the team behind only Antonio Brown. Watson’s 2.10 yards per route run is third highest on the team and has not allowed a sack in his five pass blocking snaps.
Players to Watch:
- Mike Hilton, CB – The former undrafted free agent has made plays all preseason for the Steelers, earning a grade of 72.9 overall and his 84.3 run defense grade is second best on the team. He leads the team’s defensive backs with three run stops and four total pressures. 43 of Hilton’s 49 coverage snaps came in the slot where he only allowed 0.74 yards per cover snap, besting projected starting slot cornerback William Gay’s 1.21.
- Matt Feiler, G – Named to PFF’s Team of the Week for Week 3 of the preseason, Feiler graded as the second-highest graded guard of the week. Fieler’s 83.5 is the second-highest overall grade entering the final week of preseason and the third-highest of any Steelers player. His 70 pass blocking snaps are the most by a guard this preseason to allow one or fewer pressures. He’s also one of only three guards to grade 80 or higher in run blocking and pass blocking.
- Malik Golden, S – In a crowded group of safeties, Golden has the highest grade of them all with a 77.6 overall. The former Nittany Lion has not missed a tackle in 56 snaps this preseason. Golden has also not allowed a reception while being targeted three times through three preseason games and has contributed in the run game with a 16.7 run stop percentage, tied for second among Steeler defensive backs.
Coverage by: Mike Manning
Position Battle: Damiere Byrd/Kaelin Clay, fifth WR
- After a strong debut in the preseason opener, Byrd has been held catch-less through the past two games. Byrd was the Carolina Panthers’ highest-graded wide receiver in Week 1 with an 84.2 overall grade but has not graded higher than 50.8 since then. Meanwhile, Clay has earned a grade above 70 each of the past two games. Both Byrd and Clay have had nearly 50 percent of their targets come on deep passes, Byrd reeling in two of four deep targets and Clay catching one of his two.
- While Clay has the second highest passer rating when targeted on the team with a 116.7 rating compared to Byrd’s 84.5 when targeted. But Byrd has been more efficient when on the field with 2.51 yards per route run over Clay’s 2.04. Neither player has dropped a pass this season and will be hoping to take advantage of injuries to other receivers.
Players to Watch:
- Bryan Cox, DE – Cox has done nothing but produce this preseason, earning a grade of 83.4 overall, the fourth highest on the team behind veterans like Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short. The undrafted rookie’s 20.4 pass rush productivity is second-highest among rookie edge defenders behind only Falcons first-round pick Takkarist McKinley. Cox’s 10 total pressures are more than he had in 11 games last season at Florida.
- Alex Armah, FB – The former tight end and defensive end has been transitioning to a new role as a fullback through the offseason. While he has yet to record a carry, his receiving ability has shown as he has led the Panthers’ backs with 6.60 yards per route run in the few chances he’s had. His 72.1 receiving grade ranks fourth among all fullbacks this preseason. Armah’s only played 16 snaps this preseason but should have plenty of opportunity in the final game.
- Eric Crume, DT – With the injury to Vernon Butler earlier this preseason, Crume has played often and produced when on the field. He leads the Panthers in snaps with 135 and leads the teams’ defensive tackles in both run stops with five and total pressures with six. Crume will have to play better than his 49.7 overall grade this preseason in the final game if he hopes to crack the final roster.