The Steelers enter the season coming off of a 9-7 record in 2021 and saw their season end in the Wildcard Round against the Kansas City Chiefs. With renewed hopes for a deeper playoff run this season in mind, we’ve decided to grade every Steelers’ position group.
The team has a talented front seven headlined by several explosive and productive pass rushers, but the big question remains at quarterback. Can the Steelers find a replacement for Ben Roethlisberger, while also getting improved play from other key positions under Mike Tomlin?
QB: Mitchell Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph, Chris Oladokun
2022 is the first year in almost twenty years Big Ben Roethlisberger won’t be under center. The Steelers bet big in the draft and took Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett in the first round. Pickett will play his NFL ball in the same stadium he played in with the Panthers.
Trubisky is the starter at the moment. The plan is to develop Pickett and have him take over to be the quarterback of the future. How long will it be until he is the starter? That depends on his progression, and when Head Coach Mike Tomlin feels it’s time but expect sooner rather than later.
RB: Najee Harris, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland Jr., Jeremy McNichols
Harris had a solid rookie season in 2021. He rushed for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns. He did so with an offensive line that struggled and hasn’t improved in 2022.
Snell’s touches have dropped drastically from when he entered the NFL in 2019. He only had 36 attempts for 98 yards in 2021. McFarland and McNichols have seen even less. Harris will have to carry this backfield, so his health is going to be important. However, that’s a risky bet with running backs and the contact they receive week in and week out.
WR: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin, Anthony Miller, Gunner Olszewski, Cody White, Steven Sims, Tyler Vaughns, Tyler Snead
Explanation: Johnson is one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL. He had 1,161 yards last season with an aging quarterback. Expect him to break out with a quarterback capable of throwing down the field where he can create the most separation. He did lead the league in drops in 2020 with 15 but only had three a year ago.
Claypool started off hot in his rookie season but cooled off a little. He’s had back-to-back 800-yard seasons, which is still respectable. He has the size and skill to be a dangerous receiver and might be ready to make that next jump in 2022.
The Steelers took Pickens in the second round this past April, and he is a big physical receiver that was very good for Georgia. It will be interesting to see how quickly he can adjust to the NFL. This is a solid receiver group that will surely help out a young quarterback.
TE: Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Kevin Rader, Connor Heyward
Freiermuth had a very solid rookie year in 2021 and quickly became a fan favorite in Pittsburgh. He posted 497 receiving yards but also had a PFF pass blocking grade of 81.2. He is poised to take another leap in 2022.
Gentry chipped in last year with 167 receiving yards and is a decent number two option at tight end.
OL: Dan Moore Jr, Kevin Dotson, Mason Cole, James Daniels, Chukwuma Okorafo, Joe Haeg, John Leglue, JC Hassenauer, Kendrick Green, Chaz Green, Jake Dixon, Trent Scott, Jordan Tucker, Nate Gilliam
There were a lot of troubles for this offensive line in 2021 and injuries didn’t help. Dotson is a young guard who showed promising play before his injury. Daniels signed this off-season and had a great season with the Bears in 2021.
Cole is a solid run-blocking center but has areas of his game to develop. Green is entering his second season, and the staff is hoping he develops into a reliable starter.
On the outside, Okorafor is a decent tackle. He had a 62.2-grade last season. Moore Jr struggled as a rookie in 2021, but he’s also young, and there’s plenty of room for growth. This is a younger offensive line that needs time to develop.
DL: Larry Ogunjobi, Tyson Alualu, Cameron Heyward, Chris Wormley, Montravius Adams, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Carlos David, Khalil Davis, Henry Mondeaux, Doug Costin, Donovan Jeter, Demarvin Leal
Heyward headlines this position group after having 89 total tackles and 10 sacks last season. He is one of the better interior defensive linemen in the NFL. The Steelers also went out and signed Ogunjobi, who is a big part of the Bengals’ success last season. He had 49 tackles and 7 sacks in 2021.
Chris Wormley is another pass-rushing presence as he had seven sacks in 2021. The Steelers added even more talent by taking Leal from Texas A&M in the third round of the Draft. This is a loaded group.
LB: T.J. Watt, Devin Bush, Myles Jack, Alex Highsmith, Derek Tuszka, Marcus Allen, Robert Spillane, Genard Avery, TD Moultry, Ulysees Gilbert III, Buddy Johnson, Delontae Scott, Mark Robinson, Tuzar Skipper, Tyree Johnson
This is another loaded position group headlined by 2021 sack leader, T.J. Watt. Watt had 22.5 sacks last season and has had repeated crazy production off the edge since he entered the league. He’s a type of player teams need to prepare for.
The Steelers also got better by adding Jack from Jacksonville. The linebacker has been one of the better off-ball linebackers in the NFL. Bush had his struggles last year, but the team is hoping he returns to his rookie year form.
Highsmith plays opposite Watt and had six sacks last season. Watt’s ability should create a lot of one-on-one matchups for Highsmith to take advantage of in 2022. This is a stacked group that finishes out an impressive front seven.
CB: Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, James Pierre, Justin Layne, Linden Stephens, Carlins Platel, Chris Steele
This is the position group with the most questions heading into 2022. Witherspoon was traded for during the 2021 season and turned out to be a solid pickup for the Steelers, getting three interceptions in nine games.
Sutton struggled a bit last year at corner, but he’s returning this year. The Steelers also signed Wallace in the off-season, who was a starting corner for the Bills. There are going to be some battles for spots at camp heading into 2022, meaning some lesser-known players will get a chance to earn regular-season reps.
S: Terrell Edmunds, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Miles Killebrew, Damontae Kazee, Karl Joseph, Tre Norwood, Donovan Stiner
Fitzpatrick headlines this group thanks to his downhill and ball tracking ability. He finished 2021 with an 84.3 run defense grade.
Edmonds will likely play opposite Fitzpatrick again. He had 89 total tackles and two interceptions in 2021 but only came back on a one-year deal this season. This is a position group with a veteran leader in Fitzpatrick, who flies around the field and produces at a high clip. Having that presence in the defensive backfield is always a positive.