The 2022 NFL Draft is over. Undrafted Free Agents have been signed. Rookie minicamp is coming soon, and after that the players will start competing for starting jobs, rotational snaps and for many, just to keep their NFL dreams alive.
Taking a look at the current roster, some clear battles emerge that will be important to watch as the offseason progresses. Here’s my Top 5 roster battles for 2022.
#5 - Defensive Line Depth
The Steelers struggled to put together a competent group of three defensive lineman in 2021 due to several key injuries. But in 2022? Everyone from 2021 appears to be returning, and the Steelers added a 3rd round pick in DeMarvin Leal and bring back a surprisingly good mid-season roster addition in Montravius Adams.
This isn’t a debate over which bottom of the depth chart lineman the Steelers like best. If everyone stays healthy through the preseason, the Steelers will have to make some tough decisions on the defensive line.
Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Montravius Adams, Isaiahh Loudermilk and DeMarvin Leal would all be locks in most years due to their pedigree and quality of prior play. But that’s seven defensive lineman, and the Steelers usually keep 6. Could they keep seven? Sure, but that will cost the Steelers a quality special teams player, and none of those seven are special teams players.
This will likely sort itself out before the preseason, either through injury, drop off in play or even the potential of Stephon Tuitt not returning to the team. But if they all return and stay healthy, someone is going to have to be knocked off this roster, and it will not be easy.
#4 - The Inside Linebacker Rotation
This may not seem like an obvious roster battle, the Steelers let Joe Schobert go and brought in Myles Jack, but the issue here is the role the inside linebackers play. Myles Jack and Devin Bush are both linebackers that have excelled in coverage and in their ability to cover ground to get to the ball. Devin Bush is a question mark due to his struggles to bounce back from injury, but if he is healthy the Steelers could have two Pro-Bowl level linebackers competing for the same role.
No matter what level Devin Bush is able to return to, the Steelers need an inside linebacker that can take on blocks and attack the line of scrimmage more than drop into coverage and run laterally. They don’t have any proven options in that role to choose from. Robert Spillane, Buddy Johnson and possibly versatile linebacker Genard Avery could all grab that role and the snaps that go with it.
Ideally Devin Bush returns to the linebacker we saw early in 2020, Myles Jack returns to the form he showed early in his career before the Jaguars defense was dismantled and Buddy Johnson becomes the player the Steelers saw he could be when they drafted him last year. But no matter what happens, the inside linebacker position is one spot with a clear opportunity for players to grab a bigger role in the Steelers defense.
#3 - The Starting Center
Kendrick Green was thrust into a starting role as a rookie, and it was clear he wasn’t ready for it. He lost that job to J.C. Hassenauer who showed massive improvement over the player he was as a rookie in 2020. The Steelers signed Mason Cole in Free Agency to add veteran competition for the center job as well.
There’s also a chance the Steelers move James Daniels to center, a spot he has played before, although it is more likely he takes the wide-open starting guard spot, after he played the best season of his young career at right guard.
Can Kendrick Green make a Hassenauer-esque leap from year one to year two? Can Hassenauer continue his assent and provide legitimate competition for the starting job? Will Mason Cole’s experience make him the best option for the starting job? That remains to be seen.
#2 - Sorting out the Cornerback Room
The Steelers lost Joe Haden for a time last season, and in his absence Ahkello Witherspoon played a series of great games in coverage, reminding everyone of the promise he showed in college but has struggled to put on an NFL field consistently. Witherspoon joins Cameron Sutton and free agent Levi Wallace in a very solid group of three cornerbacks. All three have shown they can be successful in the No. 2 cornerback role, while all three have struggled when leaned on to be their team’s top corner.
How the Steelers sort out their starting corners and the nickel back role will be the biggest decision on the defensive side of the ball. Add into the equation Arthur Maulet’s experience as a nickel back, Tre Norwood’s potential improvement on a very good rookie season as the dime back and backup free safety, and the potential of using one of their three top safeties in the slot and the question of how the Steelers will sort out the cornerback roles and snaps is an obvious storyline to pay close attention to this offseason.
#1 - The Starting Quarterback
Mason Rudolph has been the starter in waiting for years, and he’ll get a shot at the job. Mitchell Trubisky was a priority Steelers target in Free Agency, signing almost immediately with the Steelers. Kenny Pickett may be a rookie, but he’s also a first-round pick, and first round quarterbacks usually end up starting early on.
The Steelers added two quality lottery tickets in their quest to find their next starting quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, but which one will take the reigns and control of the offense?
The most important position in the game has been a position of stability for just under two decades for the Steelers, and in the first quarterback battle the Steelers have been engaged in since after Roethlisberger’s phenomenal rookie year, the Steelers have three contenders for the title.
This is easily the most important roster battle of the 2022 Steelers offseason and will rightly be the focus of most of the speculation and analysis these next several months.
The Steelers have added a lot of talent to the roster so far in the 2022 offseason, but few of those players came in with a clear role. From free agent additions through every draft pick, there are a lot of questions as to what their role on the team will be.
That makes for an exciting offseason, and a fantastic time for the Steelers to return to Saint Vincent College for training camp.
What do you think? Any of these roster battles overblown? Is there a big one I overlooked? Let me know.