We’re just under a week into Steelers training camp, and the reports from Pittsburgh media are flowing, with plenty of clips circulating (particularly of the Joey Porter Jr.-George Pickens matchup) to hold us over until the team’s first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Can (or should) you buy into the hype, though? I discuss whether or not I’m buying and selling some of the storylines emerging in Steelers training camp.
1. Joey Porter Jr. is already looking like the real deal with the skillset to be a shut-down cornerback.
The verdict: Buy
There is no player that I wanted the Steelers to land more in the 2023 NFL Draft than Joey Porter Jr. He was a baller at Penn State and is already showing his abilities in the first week of training camp. Per PFF, Porter Jr. forced an incompletion on 40% of the time he was targeted in coverage in 2022... that is an absurd rate. Not only did that rate lead all qualified Power 5 cornerbacks, but it was also 11% higher than the next-best cornerback in this metric (Devon Witherspoon who was selected fifth overall by the Seahawks).
2. Allen Robinson is impressing and looks like he will be an integral part of the offense in 2023.
The verdict: Sell
Glowing reviews out of training camp for Allen Robinson... this sounds awfully familiar. Oh yes — he received a ton of praise during Rams’ training camp last offseason and then ended up posting just 33 receptions for 339 receiving yards during the regular season. Robinson has averaged the fewest yards of separation on targeted plays in the NFL since 2019 (among 23 players with 400+ targets during that span). He is an important veteran presence in the wide receiver room and is well worth the trade and roster spot for that reason, but I do not expect him to put up big numbers in 2023.
3. Connor Heyward is earning himself more playing time entering his second season.
The verdict: Buy
Per many Steelers reporters that have been at camp, Connor Heyward is being used all over the field and has been one of the most impressive players throughout the first week of camp. The Steelers' offense needs a gadget player that can keep defenses on their toes and give other pass-catchers more space to work. This offense is lacking play-makers with versatility on offense and Heyward could fill that void.
Heyward was given limited opportunities in his rookie season, but on his 17 targets, Heyward showed flashes with his catch-and-run ability. On just 81 routes run, he averaged 1.86 yards per route which ranked fifth-most among tight ends last season. Heyward also had an impressive over-the-shoulder grab in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown in Week 13 against the Falcons.
4. Kenny Pickett is targeting players down the field and will not be a check-down king in 2023.
The verdict: Buy-ish
I want nothing more than this to be true. For this offense to have any success in 2023, they need to get away from the constant dink and dunks and open up the intermediate and deep passing game. I believe Kenny Pickett has a good enough arm and is accurate enough to take a lot more shots further down the field than he did in his rookie season — Pickett averaged a very impressive 9.7 air yards per pass attempt in college in 2021 at Pitt... What I am struggling to believe is that Matt Canada will actually allow his receivers to run deeper routes on a regular basis.
The Steelers have averaged a pitiful 6.2 yards per pass attempt over the last two seasons under Canada, which is tied for the fewest in the NFL with the New York Giants. Pittsburgh has built up a solid group of playmakers and it is time that the team learns how to get the best out of them.