We are well underway into Steelers training camp and just a few days away from the team’s first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Throughout the first two weeks of camp, Pittsburgh media has had googly eyes for second-year wide receiver George Pickens, the depth chart released with second-round rookie Keeanu Benton as the third-string DT, and offensive guard Kendrick Green is now a fullback???
Can (or should) you buy into these storylines, though? I discuss whether or not I’m buying and selling these reports emerging in 2023 Steelers training camp.
1. George Pickens taking over the Steelers’ WR1 role?
The verdict: Sell
The bees are buzzing that George Pickens could be the top performer in the Steelers’ offense this season as he continues to make big plays in training camp. The fantasy football world is buying into the hype as Pickens’ draft price has started inching closer and closer to Diontae Johnson’s average draft position (ADP) — Pickens is now being drafted as the WR35 on average, just two spots below Johnson at WR33.
There is no doubt that Pickens is an exciting young playmaker with the capability to be a WR1 for an NFL offense ... but this is still Diontae Johnson’s team (at least in 2023). Johnson is an elite route runner with excellent separation skills on the outside, while Pickens found most of his success on insane contested catches. Johnson has the fifth-most targets in the NFL over the last three seasons, behind only Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Justin Jefferson, and Tyreek Hill. Yes ... Diontae is that dude ... and the Steelers' No. 1 wide receiver. Draft him in your fantasy leagues.
2. Rookie DT Keeanu Benton is the third-string nose tackle?
The verdict: Sell
The Steelers released their unofficial depth chart this week and second-round rookie Keeanu Benton was listed as the third-string nose tackle, behind Montravius Adams and Breiden Fehoko. Hopefully, this is just the coaching staff making a statement that the rookie has to continue to work hard if he is going to overtake the two veterans in front of him. It’s worth noting, too, that no other rookies (even training camp superstar Joey Porter Jr.) was listed with a starting role. It’s just not Pittsburgh’s style.
Montravius Adams was less than inspiring last season on his 281 defensive snaps played, earning an overall 48.9 PFF defensive grade and 46.8 run defense grade in 2022 — not good. Breiden Fehoko was with the Chargers over the last three seasons — a team that desperately needed help on the defensive line — and he logged just four total starts from 2020-2022. In the limited snaps that Fehoko did play last season, he earned an abysmal 28.8 PFF tackle grade. No, thank you. Pittsburgh needs Keeanu Benton to make an impact in year one.
The team used the 49th overall pick on Benton in the 2023 Draft and reports out of camp have been positive surrounding his performance. As a big boy in the middle, Benton also offers pass-rush ability as recorded 4.5 sacks and 11 QB hits at Wisconsin in 2022. Benton will take over the starting role sooner rather than later.
3. Kendrick Green... a full-back?
The verdict: Sell
Get out of here. Just... no. This would be such a waste of a roster spot, especially on game day. Green hasn’t proven this offseason that he can make it as an NFL guard, so now, the coaching staff is trying to get him involved in any other way possible during training camp behind releasing him.
If the Steelers desperately want to utilize a fullback this season, they’ll use second-year TE/FB Connor Heyward, who offers way more versatility at any given time he is on the field. Heyward was the only fullback listed on the team’s first unofficial depth chart earlier this week.