As training camp begins at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, so, too, does a season full of expectations and hope for the Pittsburgh Steelers
With Steelers training camp officially opening with the team’s first practice Thursday and preseason action on the horizon, today we’ll break down each position group on Pittsburgh’s roster and rank them from best to worst.
T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith are one of the best pass-rushing duos in football, and if both stay healthy, they have a real chance at breaking the franchise single-season record for sacks by a tandem in one season current record is held by James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley with 27.5 combined sacks). The Steelers also added Markus Golden. The former Giant and Cardinal is very reliable when it comes to staying healthy, and had 11.5 sacks just two seasons ago. Pittsburgh drafted Nick Herbig from Wisconsin, as well, which gives the Steelers plenty of depth.
The Steelers have a healthy mix of talent, potential, and veteran leadership at receiver. Diontae Johnson is somewhat polarizing to Steelers fans, but he is underrated when it comes to his ability to create his own space and make things happen with the ball in his hands. George Pickens is already one of the best 50-50 ball guys in the league. If he can improve as a route runner, he has the potential to be one of the game’s best. Allen Robinson being utilized in the big slot role is perfect for him at this stage of his career, and Calvin Austin will be the fun gadget guy who can run past everyone. The best thing you can do for a young quarterback is to surround him with talent, and the Steelers have done just that.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the best safety in football. No safety has more All-Pro selections since 2019, and he looks poised to have another top-notch year. The strong safety spot is somewhat in the air, though. Will Damontae Kazee be the predominant guy in that spot? Will Keanu Neal’s versatility as a box safety earn him more snaps than originally anticipated? Will Tre Norwood earn reps? There is uncertainty, but also excitement for what could come from the unit as a whole.
Pat Freiermuth is one of the best tight ends in football, and the Steelers gave him a potentially great running mate by drafting Darnell Washington. 12 personnel is going to be a norm in 2023 for the Steelers. Zach Gentry will be utilized as a blocker, as well in heavy sets and inside the red zone. Overall, the tight ends in Pittsburgh are a well-rounded unit.
Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren will both be productive in 2023. While Harris had a nagging injury in the first half of 2022, Warren proved himself as a reliable No. 2 option, averaging almost five yards per carry for the season. Harris ran for over 1,000 yards for the second straight season, but the Steelers need to see more from him. With an improved offensive line, it’s not crazy for Pittsburgh to expect a 1,300-yard season from the former first-round pick.
Patrick Peterson still has some juice left, and the Steelers brought him over on a very cheap deal. While everyone is excited about Joey Porter Jr., it may be Levi Wallace who starts opposite Peterson in Week 1. Porter will certainly get his snaps, but the Steelers will take their time in refining his craft to become that of an every-down player. Cory Trice is another guy to be excited about, as Pittsburgh took the former Purdue Boilermaker in the seventh round in the draft this past April.
Both Porter and Trice have all the tools to become an outstanding cornerback tandem, and we’ll see multiple glimpses at that this season. The only concern I have is the nickel spot. It will come down to Chandon Sullivan, who struggled last season in Minnesota, or Duke Dawson, who has floated around practice squads over the last several seasons. That said, I’m optimistic about this group, as there is much more depth than in recent years.
Cam Heyward is still playing at the top of his game, but the unit as a whole will be relying on unproven talent. DeMarvin Leal and rookie Keannu Benton will be expected to be strong contributors. Larry Ogunjobi is a reliable starter across from Heyward, but it will be interesting to see what the depth pieces end up being. Montravius Adams has proven to be a fine plug-and-play guy, and they brought over Armon Watts from Chicago. Pittsburgh’s defensive line will likely be fine, just less than outstanding.
The offensive line is going to be much better this season for Pittsburgh. Adding Broderick Jones at left tackle gives them an athletic run blocker, as well as someone who can keep Kenny Pickett’s blind side clean. Isaac Seumalo will play next to him at left guard, cleaning up what was a messy side of the line in 2022. Having the likes of Dan Moore and Kevit Dotson as depth reserves is a good role for each of them, and gives Pittsburgh better depth at the position than they’ve had over the last few seasons.
The Steelers have a deep quarterback room. Kenny Pickett is expected to take a leap forward in 2023. That doesn’t mean he’ll be Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, but he doesn’t have to be. If he can protect the ball and make a few throws each game, the Steelers will be perfectly fine. Pittsburgh also has two reliable backups in Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph should Pickett miss any time.
Chris Boswell is a fantastic kicker, but punter Pressley Harvin has been a liability. Don’t be surprised if Braden Mann wins the punting job in camp.
The Steelers' off-ball linebackers are their biggest question mark. Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts are fine, and they complement each other very well. Both are fine run stoppers, but Roberts is great when being utilized as a blitzer, earning a 90.1 PFF grade as a pass rusher. Holcomb provides more in pass coverage. Behind them, though, there is a lot to be desired.
Mark Robinson had a few flashes, but was dreadful in pass coverage, and overall, is more of a last resort than a consistent rotational piece. Could he improve? Absolutely, but a lot of improvement is needed. Tanner Muse didn’t see the field enough last season in Seattle to have a real feel for how good he could perform. We will learn a lot about this group in camp and preseason, but expectations are low.