The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading into the final four games of the 2021 NFL regular season in last place in the AFC North. While they are the bottom team in the division, the Steelers are only 1.5 games out the first place as teams are all bunched together. With all four franchises facing some tough opponents to finish out the season, as well as facing each other, it’s still anyone’s division for the taking.
As much as the Steelers have a chance to win the division, their play on the field would need to improve in order to help secure victory. Not only will the players who are in uniform need to step up their game, but the return of other members of the Steelers could help the cause.
Here are five players under contract with the Steelers who could possibly return, although not all are likely, and help over the final four regular season games. Players such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Tyson Alualu, who are both believed to be done for the season, will not be included. Additionally, players such as 2010 Troy Polamalu, who would really be something that could help his team, are not going to magically appear so they will not be included as we’re trying to look at reality and not wishful thinking.
Likelihood of return: Hopefully soon
Injured early in the game in Week 10 against the Detroit Lions, it appeared as if Haden might have been ready to return after only missing one game before experiencing a setback. Unfortunately, he has not practiced since and has now been out for four weeks as the Steelers have gone 1-3 in his absence. With the added rest over the mini bye week, perhaps Haden can get back to practice and on the field since he was not placed on the Reserve/Injured List (IR).
Likelihood of return: Could be anytime
Starting the Steelers first nine games of the season at left guard, second-year, fourth-round draft pick Kevin Dotson is currently on IR but has served enough time to be eligible to return. With a short week between the Steelers matchups between the Ravens and the Vikings, it was unlikely for Dotson to be ready with no practice time available to him to work through his high ankle sprain. Whether or not the Steelers will open the window for Dotson to return remains to be seen, but being arguably the best player on the Steelers offensive line until he was injured, getting Dotson back would be a welcomed addition.
Likelihood of return: Any day now
Dealing with a much more recent injury, Robert Spillane left the Steelers Week 12 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals with a knee injury. Missing the following week due to being on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, Spillane returned after the game from the COVID list only to miss the next game due to the injury. Hopefully Spillane can return to practice this week. Although not a starter, it would be welcomed for him to return to the lineup as the reserve/dime linebacker as Marcus Allen struggled greatly in that role against the Vikings.
Likelihood of return: Don’t count on it
I honestly wasn’t going to include Stephon Tuitt on this list, but many Steelers fans are still waiting to hear if he’s ever going to take the field in 2021. Personally, I feel that he has reached the point of the year where he would not be ready for the Steelers if they activated the 21-day time period for him to return. While many fans believe it is strictly Tuitt dealing with the tragic loss of his brother, everything from the Steelers is about a knee injury. If Stephin Tuitt was close to a point where he could take the field, the Steelers would have activated him and started the 21-day window much sooner to get him up to speed. For this reason, I don’t think we’ll see number 91 in 2021.
Likelihood of return: Not reported, but not expected
Eric Ebron was placed on IR following his injury on a touchdown catch against the Los Angeles Chargers. Missing three games as required, Ebron is eligible to come off of the list, but having knee surgery likely will keep him out much longer. Although he would not be returning as the main tight end for the Steelers, as Pat Freiermuth as firmly grasped that position, having another big target as a weapon would be welcomed.
So there are five players who could return for the Steelers in 2021 and help them down this final stretch of games. In all honesty, the top three players are the only ones who have a realistic shot of being ready anytime soon, as both Stephan Tuitt in Eric Ebron are more likely to stay on IR than to return.
So what do you think? Do you believe any of these players will be returning anytime soon to help the Steelers in their final four games? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below.