Steelers free agency files: RB Antonio Gibson


NFL: Miami Dolphins at Washington Commanders
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

A look at potential free agents for the Black & Gold to consider in 2024…

Approaching the 2024 NFL free agency, we’ll be scouting as many of the potential depth pieces and other free agents who the Steelers could have their eyes on. We’ll break down the player’s career in the NFL thus far, strengths and weaknesses, projected contract value and their fit with the Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers could use a third running back to provide depth. Soon to be a free agent from Washington Commanders running back Antonio Gibson could be a valuable depth option and has some experience on special teams as well. Gibson is better than most running backs as a receiving option out of the backfield.

NFL: Washington Commanders at San Francisco 49ers
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Antonio Gibson free agent profile

Current team: Washington Commanders

Height/weight: 6’0, 228 pounds

College: Memphis

Experience: 4 NFL Seasons

Best fit: Passing downs back, occasionally split out wide as a receiver, can return kicks as well

NFL draft pedigree: 2020 NFL Draft third-round pick

Player Bio

Washington Running Back Antonio Gibson is one of those players that just is just so frustrating to watch on tape. While Gibson can produce explosive plays of more than twenty yards due to his speed he can outrun several receivers. Too often he tries to bounce plays outside even when it’s seemingly designed for him to run inside. When he does that he gets himself into trouble on the field, and when he comes to the sidelines. But, occasionally being able to exploit the defense for a huge explosive play does have its advantages, especially for an offense predicted to be as conservative as the Steelers.

Antonio Gibson overview

Antonio Gibson has the talent to be the leader of a running back by committee, however, he continues to literally fumble the opportunity away. 12 career fumbles are unacceptable; the ball is not covered in bacon grease man. With a new regime in Washington and better alternatives available on the free agency market, Gibson should be allowed to walk in search of greener pastures. Gibson does have the size the Steelers generally gravitate towards with his height and weight, and they may be willing to take a look with his special teams background. He would be a player who could contribute on both offense, as well as special teams.

Antonio Gibson’s strengths

  • Speed — Gibson was clocked at 4.39 at the NFL Combine in 2020
  • Experience as a kick returner during time at Memphis and in the NFL
  • Natural receiver — Converted wide receiver
  • Prototypical size for running back position
  • Just 25 years old

Speed

When Antonio Gibson finds a lane he’s gone, he’s able to show his speed when he gets out in space. You can see his previous experience at playing receiver when he’s able to get on linebacker out in space. He’s also able to use his experience as a kick returner to make defenders miss.

Gibson also shows his receiving ability on screen passes when he’s able to get on the perimeter. The Steelers previously, and for a long time have been dreadful on screen plays to receivers and running backs. However, that’s something that Gibson can execute well when called upon, as well as executing zone runs.

Experience as a returner

Antonio Gibson can be an option as a returner. The Steelers third running back will certainly be expected to contribute on special teams. Gibson has only been a kick returner during his time at Memphis and with Washington. The Steelers may be able to get both depth at the running position as well as adding a kick returner with Gibson. With limited usage the team can use him at the running back spot should either of the Pittsburgh Steelers Running Backs Najee Harris or Jaylen Warren need a breather, or one of them suffers an in-game injury.

Weaknesses

  • Prone to turning the football over with 12 career fumbles
  • Doesn’t play to his size — not a physical back, more of a finesse player
  • Will bounce plays outside too often shying away from contact
  • Wide receiver/running back hybrid, but HE hasn’t excelled at either over time

Antonio Gibson coughs the football up too frequently to be a startable option should Harris or Warren miss time with injuries. Of the twelve times he’s fumbled the ball, only three were recovered by the offense. That landed him squarely in former Commanders’ head coach Ron Rivera’s dog house. The Steelers don’t currently have the offensive firepower to overcome costly lost fumbles.

Market value estimate

One-year contract with a value between $1,250,000 – $1,350,000

Steelers free agency files: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire


NFL: AFC Championship-Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A look at potential free agents for the Black & Gold to consider in 2024…

Approaching the 2024 NFL free agency, we’ll be scouting as many of the potential depth pieces and other free agents who the Steelers could have their eyes on. We’ll break down the player’s career in the NFL thus far, strengths and weaknesses, projected contract value and their fit with the Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Arthur Smith’s system is very run-heavy. The team may be in the market for a number three running back to spread the workload further so that Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren are fresh later in the 2024 season. The Steelers usually prefer to target players with strong character and pedigree, and Kansas City Chiefs impending free agent Clyde Edwards-Helaire could be a player that fits that bill.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Clyde Edwards-Helaire free agent profile

Current NFL team: Kansas City Chiefs

Height/weight: 5’7”, 207 pounds

College: LSU

NFL Experience: 4 NFL seasons

Best fit: Passing down back

NFL draft pedigree: 2020 NFL Draft first-round selection (No. 32)

Player Bio

The rushing stats have been trending downward in each of his four NFL seasons. Edwards-Helaire was miscast as a starter capable running back. He was a draft bust, it happens NFL teams miss on prospects. However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be useful players in other schemes or as role players. He has a career yards per carry of 4.2, along with a career yards per reception of 8.6. The best statistical season for him was his rookie season in 2020.

The Chiefs effectively completely phased him out of their offense as running back Isaiah Pacheco became the featured back. He barely played for them during the 2024 season.

Player overview

Edwards-Helaire is comparable in size to current Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Warren. However, he doesn’t play with the same type of violence that Warren does. Edwards-Helaire doesn’t have the best vision and seems to be better out in space. He should not be in on short yardage downs, as he would be better served to be in on obvious passing situations.

Strengths

  • Good receiving option, whether out of the backfield or as an option out wide
  • Slippery as a runner
  • Should fit well in a zone-style running scheme
  • Team-first player
  • Only two career fumbles

Good receiving option

As an outlet option, Edwards-Helaire can be an effective receiving option out of the backfield. Giving the quarterback an additional short to intermediate option out of the backfield. Arthur Smith doesn’t utilize a third receiver often in his scheme, the running back position should continue though to see a fair share of targets.

Slippery style runner

Edwards-Helaire’s running style is somewhat reminiscent of former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. That stutter step, plant, and go — no one other than Bell has been as successful at it as he was. However, Edwards-Helaire at times does a pretty good impersonation of it. Able to fool the defender by seeming to lean in one direction, only to plant and go in another one. While the tackling in this clip is horrendous, it’s the skill that Edwards-Helaire displayed during the play picking up huge chunks of yardage.

Weaknesses

  • Foot speed — Not going to run away from anyone, even in the open field. Struggles to get to the outside.
  • Vision — Very poor at finding the open hole
  • Contact — Doesn’t initiate contact with the defender, doesn’t run with aggression
  • Blocking — Can tend to take poor angles when engaging blitzes
  • Limited usage — Has handled 15+ carries in just eight of 32 career starts
  • Lack of special teams experience — Zero snaps on special teams over four seasons with the Chiefs

Edwards-Helaire is not very fleet of foot, so he’s not likely to produce a large number of explosive plays. He seems to run into the back of his lineman far too often due to his poor vision following plays. Mike Tomlin often has been quoted as saying he’d rather say, “Woah” than, “Sick em!” A coach shouldn’t be concerned with having to coach physicality into a player; you either play with it, or you don’t.

In Pittsburgh, the third running back on the depth chart will be expected to play a role on special teams, so he’d be wise to make quick friends with Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith. That’s the best way for them to make the team, though it could be unlikely given his lack of experience in this phase of the game in the NFL.

Market value estimate: One-year, veteran minimum benefit contract — 1 year, $1.25 million

How to build your Steelers 2024 NFL Draft board at home


NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

A look at how the Steelers have approached previous drafts to help you build your own 2024 NFL Draft wish list.

The NFL Combine kicks off today February 26, 2024. We encourage you to watch the Combine in full if at all possible as you can see some of the prospects who likely will be holding up a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey during the 2024 NFL Draft, or who get the call from the team during the draft. You can begin building your draft board to follow along with the draft at home. You likely will not get every selection correct, but you may be surprised at how close you can get.

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News
Gary Cosby Jr. / USA TODAY NETWORK

Using the Steelers past to predict the future

Like most things in life, people form habits that can serve to predict how they behave. NFL front offices are no different to be perfectly candid. If you go back to the beginning of the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s tenure with the team and put all of the players’ names, schools, and whether the school is from a Power Five conference (updated 2024), it starts to paint a picture.

For the last 17 years, the Steelers have never once drafted a player in the first round outside of the previous version of the Power Five conference. Even though the Power Five has changed a bit over time, don’t be surprised if the Steelers stick to what they have done in previous seasons. Their 2024 NFL Draft first-round pick will probably be from a large college program. So, there’s the beginning to setting your draft board which should give you an idea where to begin.

What can the current team needs and players under contract tell you?

Next, let’s work off of the Steelers’ current team needs. Unfortunately, there are a lot of them. In no particular order:

Center: Unless the Steelers decide to invest heavily in a free-agent center when the new league year begins, as their roster stands, they don’t have a true center candidate on the team. It wouldn’t be surprising if Omar Khan elects to sign a stop-gap option at the position before the 2024 NFL Draft — someone like Aaron Brewer of the Tennessee Titans — to give them an appearance of flexibility. Don’t be fooled though, he would not be considered as a Week 1 starter for the Steelers.

  • Cornerback: The Steelers are extremely thin at the corner position behind Joey Porter Jr., It’s not a given they don’t waive veteran Patrick Peterson with the potential to save just under $7 million against the cap in 2024. They could take a large swing in free agency here, which would push the positional need down the board.
  • Defensive line: Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward will be 35 years old before the season, which means it’s past time for the team to start looking at his future heir at the position. DE Larry Ogunjobi hasn’t done much of anything either. Their 2023 NFL Draft second-round selection Keeanu Benton looks like a find at nosetackle, but there’s not much depth behind their starters.
  • Inside Linebacker: Age and injury concerns certainly are a problem for the team, and they don’t have much depth behind presumed starters Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts. But, if Holcomb gets the green light to return to football activity sooner rather than later, don’t be shocked if they push this need down the board a bit.
  • Strong safety: The Steelers don’t have an NFL-quality starting strong safety; they just don’t. Approaching free agency, their top options are 28-year-old Keanu Neal, who missed time with injury last season, and 2022 UDFA Trenton Thompson.
  • Offensive tackle: The Steelers will look to get 2023 rookie Broderick Jones back to left tackle this season, which means they’ll need to find his complement on the right side of the line.
  • Quarterback: The Steelers are certainly going to look at competition for Kenny Pickett. It’s doubtful they make a big trade at the position or sign a veteran to a lucrative deal.
  • Punter: There aren’t any attractive free agents at this position, and there are three candidates the team could look too on day three of the 2024 draft.

That looks like a lot but you should expect to see a few starting-level free agents that come in and serve to fill some of those needs which will push them down, or off the draft board altogether.

Steelers in free agency

When preparing your draft board, it’s important to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the incoming draft class. With strength at the top of the 2024 center class, the Steelers could decide to shy away from spending large dollars on a veteran center and opt to pursue their next center in the draft.

The team isn’t likely to bring in another starting option at the inside linebacker position, either, after the Steelers invested a lot in Holcomb and Roberts last offseason. So, you shouldn’t expect to see them sign another starting-caliber inside linebacker. They very well could sign a role-player-type backup-level player, with several available options that make sense. Barring them doing that, they should address the position in the draft, though how early remains to be seen given other needs.

Being that this is expected to be a relatively poor class at strong safety and a good pool of experienced veteran options in free agency who fit what the Steelers often like, this is a position you could very well see the Steelers sign a free agent to a top-of-the-market contract.

The rookie draft class at offensive tackle on paper looks promising, and that’s probably the path the team chooses to travel versus signing a free-agent tackle. Whether it’s on the right or left side, tackles tend to get paid well — even the bad ones. If they can find the complement to Broderick Jones to play on a rookie contract, all the better.

As for the quarterback position… The top two quarterbacks in the draft are USC quarterback Caleb Williams and UNC’s Drake Maye will be long gone before the Steelers’ selection at pick No. 20. Even if the Steelers do somehow trade up during the draft, they certainly won’t be able to get in range of those two top-tiered options. It’s also a fool’s errand to draft a quarterback in the first round of the draft simply to draft a quarterback, especially when they may have even already done that with current starting quarterback Kenny Pickett. So, it wouldn’t be smart to draft a quarterback in this draft unless they are certain they found not only an improvement on Pickett but a franchise quarterback. Unless that is the feeling, you can very well completely cross off quarterback before round six of the draft.

It’s far more likely to see the team bring in a veteran option via the free-agent market. They don’t have a fifth-round selection, so chances are low they make a trade for a quarterback unless it’s for someone who’s not going to cost more than a stale bag of chips. Lastly, the punter position, you can write in dark pencil the Steelers using their sixth-round selection on Iowa punter Tory Taylor, Texas Tech punter Austin McNamara, Vanderbilt punter Matthew Hayball, BYU punter Ryan Rehkow, Duke punter Porter Wilson. One of them will be getting a phone call from a 412 number on day three of the draft.

So here’s how you can start to put together your draft board. The Combine is important but the players who are seen as the top players likely won’t change much. What the Steelers do in free agency or don’t do will play a large role in composing your draft board. And don’t forget, remove those small school players from your first-round grouping for the Steelers.

Expect the Steelers to hit these positions in the draft after they plug some holes in free agency:

  1. Center
  2. Defensive End
  3. Cornerback
  4. Inside Linebacker
  5. Punter
  6. Offensive Tackle

The next steps are to start familiarizing yourself with names aligned with those positions, if you like to do mock drafts then start focusing on those areas.