The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the midst of their bye week for the 2021 NFL season. While it is a time for players to get some much-needed rest, it’s also time for the coaches to dig a little deeper into their playbooks and get ready to implement some different things down the stretch of the season. In all, the Steelers can hopefully emerge from their bye and get some added production from a number of players.
The following is a list of 5 players I believe are ready to breakout following the Steelers bye week. Due to injury, playing time, experience, or a number of factors, I believe these players are ready to take what Steelers fans have seen in 2021 and bring it to a new level over the next several weeks.
After suffering a groin injury leading into the first week of the season, Alex Highsmith saw most production in Week 6 against the Seattle Seahawks. With so many looking at outside linebackers to produce sacks and other types of splash plays, Highsmith had some solid games along the way, but it wasn’t until Week 6 that he got his first sack of 2021, finishing with 1.5 in the game.
Not only did Highsmith see some of his best numbers of the season, he also saw his most snaps as he played all 65 defensive snaps against Seattle. After missing Week 3 due to a groin injury, it appeared Highsmith might be dealing with the nagging issue for some time. Appearing to now be getting healthy heading into the bye, look for a Highsmith to burst on to the scene when the Steelers resume play in Week 8.
Many Steelers fans are scratching their head over the use of Washington so far in 2021. Through the first four games, Washington has only been targeted 13 times and had nine receptions for 99 yards. After missing Week 5 with a groin injury, Washington returned to take on the Seattle Seahawks without an injury status despite being limited in practice. Having the first pass thrown his way of the game and bringing it in for a 9-yard gain, Washington never saw another look his way the rest of the night. Strangely, he only played eight snaps in the entire game.
Moving forward, the Steelers need to get Washington on the field more with the loss of JuJu Smith-Schuster for the season. Whether it be Washington or somebody else filling in JuJu’s role, the former second-round pick needs to be a part of the Steelers game plan. Simply getting more opportunity, and catching the majority the pass is thrown his way, Washington‘s production almost can’t be lower than what it has been so far this season if he’s utilized at all within the offense.
The Steelers rookie tight end has been a great contributor to their offense although he hasn’t exactly burst onto the scene completely. Getting over 200 snaps so far in the regular season, Freiermuth has caught 18 of his 20 targets the season. Additionally, Freiermuth has the highest overall grade of any offensive player on the Steelers according to Pro Football Focus.
Now that the rookie has got his feet under him and has shown he can be quite the asset for the Steelers offense, it’s up to both the coaches and Ben Roethlisberger to use Freiermuth even more moving forward. Although he’s done a nice job in the blocking aspect of the game, what will really get Freiermuth noticed across the league is putting up receiving numbers.
After starting off the season with a very nice game against the Buffalo Bills, Cameron Sutton has had his ups and downs as the starting corner opposite of Joe Haden. Missing Week 5 due to injury, Sutton hasn’t been the most consistent of cornerbacks in his first season as a full-time starter.
Now that Sutton has five games under his belt and additional week to get back to full health, hopefully he can return to the player who was flying all over the field in Week 1 against the Bills. We’ve seen what Cam Sutton can do, he just needs to do those things consistently.
Pressley Harvin III
Yes, I’m going with the punter. The Steelers seventh-round draft pick Pressley Harvin now has six games under his belt with 25 punrs and a 44.9 yard per punt average. While he has done a nice job hitting some booming kicks, Harvin has also had the occasional shank. Harvin actually has eight points on the season that were under 40 yards with three being 30 yards or less. While two of those punts were because he was kicking on a short field, he still hasn’t managed to pin the defense extremely deep when not needing a long kick. But at the same time, Harvin has 10 punts of 50 yards or more and a long of 63 yards.
As the season wears on, I’m looking for the Steelers rookie punter to gain confidence and get more consistency with hitting the long kicks. With using the bye week as somewhat of a reset, Harvin can feel that he’s got enough NFL experience under his belt to just go out there and boot it.
There were some other players who were considered for this recognition but we’re not included for one reason or the other. Somebody like running back Najee Harris may struggle to do even more coming out of a bye as teams are looking to take him away as an option. Looking at the other end of the Steelers draft, Tre Norwood has kind of had a bit of a coming out party before the bye week, so it’s not as much of it being a big jump after the Steelers break.
Looking at a number of spots along the offensive line, I also considered Kendrick Green who was initially my choice over Pressley Harvin. But Green has showed some great flashes already of what he can do, he just needs to be more consistent as his play has been up-and-down from week to week. I also looked at players such as Dan Moore Jr. or Zach Banner, but not knowing exactly what the Steelers are going to do at offensive tackle, there is a chance only one of them is going to not see the field. While many would like to see both of them out there at the same time at opposite tackles, we just don’t know yet who it is going to be between Banner, Moore, and Chuks Okorafor.
One last place I considered was Devin Bush and Joe Schobert at inside linebacker. While it would be great for these two players to continue to mesh and increase their production, I’m not certain it will come due to the bye week.
So what do you think of the list? What player do you think will burst out the most for the Steelers coming out of the bye week? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below.