The Pittsburgh Steelers are built different in 2023.
There’s a long-standing theme of Steelers football that the team lives and dies with it’s established, and mostly defensive, veteran stars. As a 29-year-old, that has definitely been the theme of my fan experience, with the early 2000s teams dominated by players like Joey Porter, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Casey Hampton, Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, and so many more. Yes, there were young contributors to their efforts like Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Willie Parker, but the strength of those teams was always the experienced vets.
The 2023 Steelers are a different animal. Of course, there’s still the veteran powerhouses leading the way, but this edition of the Black and Gold is absolutely loaded with young playmakers ready to make their mark on the league and take this team to another level.
So my question is this: Who’s more important to the Steelers success in 2023? Is it the OG’s or is it in fact those dynamic youngsters? Before we dive into the debate, let’s take a look at the prominent members of each side. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll call the “vets” anyone going into their 5th year or later, and the youngsters will include Rookies through 4th year players.
Cam Heyward, TJ Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, DJ, Patrick Peterson, Isaac Seumalo, Allen Robinson, OL with exception of Broderick Jones
Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Pat Freiermuth, Alex Highsmith, Broderick Jones, JPJ, DeMarvin Leal, Darnell Washington, Keeanu Benton
I’m not going to lie here. I think this team has a chance to put together a special 2023 season. It’s going to be a fun ride. But who’s driving the train? The argument for the “OG’s” is strong. Let’s start with TJ Watt, who’s mere presence on the field changes the whole ballgame for opposing offenses. The fact that the team is a combined 1-10 without Watt in the lineup since he was drafted in 2017 shows the unmatched impact he has on the team, especially in recent seasons.
Add in the leadership and playmaking ability of long term Steelers like Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick along with “been there, done that” guys like Patrick Peterson and Allen Robinson, and you have a core of vets that can match any team in the league. The combined experience and well-refined skills of each of these players gives the Steelers such a high floor and the ability to close out close games late in the season when it counts most. Lose one or two of these vets for a substantial length of time due to injury, and it puts a major damper on the ceiling of the team.
The argument for the Young Guns is equally compelling. Just look at that list of names and the positions they play. If the Steelers want to really make the leap in 2023 and beyond, these dudes need to hit the ground running. Where can you start with this group but Kenny Pickett, who just happens to be playing the most important position in football for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 2nd year Quarterback is expected to make a significant leap from his Rookie campaign, and if he can, he immediately makes the Steelers offense a force to be reckoned with.
The team is absolutely loaded at the skill positions, with Najee Harris, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth, and Jaylen Warren all expected to play significant roles in reaching the team’s 2023 goals. Their ability to gel together as a unit on offense is arguably the most important factor in that journey.
I haven’t even mentioned the Rookies like Broderick Jones, Joey Porter Jr., Keeanu Benton, and Darnell Washington who will also be major pieces of the Steelers puzzle this year.
If the youngsters as a whole fail to really take another step forward in their respective careers, it leaves the Steelers out of the mix as a real contender. Imagine this, though: Kenny Pickett to George Pickens becomes the NFL’s next big-time young QB-WR connection. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combine to form one of the league’s best rushing duos behind what should be a vastly improved OL. The young TE duo of Freiermuth and Washington routinely destroys linebackers and safeties all season long. That’s exciting stuff, and it signals the potential for greatness for the Steelers as a whole.
So who’s driving this train for Pittsburgh in 2023? If I had to pick a side, I’d have to choose the youngsters. Cam Heyward, TJ Watt, and company are the heartbeat of the team, and the Steelers come into the season with a high floor of expectations because of their presence on the roster. However, the ceiling of this team will be influenced more by the growth and development of the young talent on offense and defense.
In the end, it will absolutely take both groups playing high quality football for the team to contend for a championship, but that goal is only reached if Kenny Pickett and co. make the leap in 2023. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
Who do you think is more important to the Steelers’ success in 2023? Give us your answer in the poll below and give your reasons in the comment section.
Who is more important to the Steelers success in 2023?
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Don’t forget to check out the latest episode of The Steelers Fix podcast with myself and Andrew Wilbar, where we debate this topic and more! Hit play below!