Will the Pittsburgh Steelers continue to be a competitive team over the course of the next three seasons? A panel of ESPN experts certainly believes that will be the case, according to the recent release of the site’s annual future NFL power rankings.
This year’s expert ESPN panel, Louis Riddick, Kevin Seifert and Field Yates, were all asked to rate the rosters of all 32 NFL teams, excluding quarterbacks, in addition to rating each team’s quarterback, draft, front office and coaching. The ratings of those five categories were then weighted to produce a future ranking system. When it comes to the Steelers 2019 future ranking, the panel’s results have them sixth-overall behind the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, and Seattle Seahawks with a score of 84.4.
Yates attempted to explain why the Steelers are ranked where they are this year and as you can probably imagine, most of that concern revolves around the team’s current offense and the offseason loss of wide receiver Antonio Brown.
There’s a standard in Pittsburgh that starts with reaching the playoffs annually, which is why 2018 was a disappointing season for Mike Tomlin & Co. But a bounce back should be expected, as the Steelers possess many of the requisite ingredients for success. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s extension aligns with the three-year window of this project, while Pittsburgh’s offensive line is one of the best in football. Notable question marks that loom for the Steelers are how much this offense will miss Antonio Brown and how quickly linebacker Devin Bush can assert himself as the quarterback of the defense. This team is set up to be successful.
As for the Steelers biggest worry moving forward, Riddick also mostly pointed to the Steelers offense and the recent loss of Brown.
Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster combined for 53% of the Steelers’ receiving yards last season. Only the Vikings’ Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs combined for a higher percentage of their team’s receiving yardage among receiver duos. So the question is: Will Smith-Schuster be able to handle the pressure that comes with being the No. 1 target, and who will step up and fill the No. 2 role that he leaves behind? Those are big questions that need to be answered for a team that will be much better defensively and now has the Browns making big moves with big expectations within the division.
As for what could change for the better moving forward, Seifert points to the game-day decision-making of head coach Mike Tomlin.
The panel gave high ratings to a roster that is in transition following the departures of Brown and tailback Le’Veon Bell, and one that faces another change at some point when the 37-year-old Roethlisberger retires. One improvement that could elevate the team’s Super Bowl chances is Tomlin’s game-day decisions, something he and the entire franchise have worked on this offseason.
Overall, the panel’s 2019 offering on the Steelers future for the next three years is seemingly fair. After all, a year ago the Steelers were ranked fifth overall in these very rankings with a score 83.9. In 2017 the Steelers were also ranked fifth overall and with a score of 84.35. In the 2016 rankings they were fourth overall with a score of 83.5. In 2015 they ranked fifth overall with a score of 82.2 and in 2014 they ranked seventh with a score of 79.91. If you are scoring at home, the Steelers 2019 score of 84.4 is the highest it’s ever been since ESPN.com started these silly future rankings.
While a lot of this year’s focus and concern from the ESPN.com panel seems to be on the Steelers offense and that unit being able to overcome the loss of Brown, it really should be more on the team’s defense. After all, while the Steelers defense was good against the run last season and the unit led the league in sacks, the pass defense still wasn’t where it needs to be. Additionally, last year’s Steelers defense made the team’s offense work a lot harder than they should have had to due to only 15 total turnovers being registered all season with 8 of those being interceptions. If the 2019 Steelers defense can once again register more than 50 sacks and increase their total takeaway number to the mid 20s or greater, the Steelers offense should be just fine this upcoming season even without Brown and thus be able to hold up their end of the deal.
If we learned anything from this year’s ESPN future rankings it’s the fact that the Steelers should indeed be able to compete for a championship in each of the next three seasons as long as Roethlisberger and other key players are able to remain healthy.
Below are the @ESPN NFL Future Rankings for the #Steelers dating back to 2014 and highlighted are the highest scores during those years. This year they regesred high scores in 3 categories and the highest overall score EVAH! Plan the parade now. https://t.co/UQYHuc8gHk pic.twitter.com/r1HT308Pie
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) July 17, 2019