It wasn’t so long ago that the Pittsburgh Steelers were being talked about as one of the most talented teams in the league, a distinction that was geared largely toward the offensive side of the ball. The Killer Bs were the talk of the town, Ben Roethlisberger a future Hall of Famer, Antonio Brown the best wide receiver in the game, and Le’Veon Bell the most complete running back you’ll find.
Two of those players are gone and the quarterback’s arm is hanging on by a thread, or so it might sound to some. They still have talent, even if it has largely shifted to the defensive side of the ball now—four Pro Bowlers and three All-Pros, for example—but much of the talent on offense right now is more potential than production.
Because of this, Bill Barnwell ended up ranking the Steelers’ offensive weapons 13th heading into the 2020 season, which is actually a slight increase from the previous year, where they ranked 15th the start the year. They were ranked fourth heading into 2018.
“It was almost entirely a lost season in 2019 for the Steelers’ weapons, who had to endure a year with replacement-level quarterback play after Ben Roethlisberger was done for the year in Week 2”, he writes. “Even if Roethlisberger had stayed healthy, though, key weapons such as James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster had their own injury woes. Both players are bounce-back candidates in 2020, when the 2017 draftees will each be in a contract year”.
Both young skill players were Pro Bowlers in 2018. Last year, their numbers paled in comparison, but again, so much of that had to do with time missed during the year—not to mention the effect that playing with sub-par quarterbacks had on that.
“The one skill-position player who did make it through all 16 games for the Steelers was Diontae Johnson, who racked up 680 yards and five scores as a rookie”, he noted of the 2019 third-round pick. “His fumble rate was unconscionable, as he coughed up the ball five times on 83 touches. If Johnson can hold onto the football, he can form a useful trio with Smith-Schuster and James Washington, who averaged 1.84 yards per route run a year ago”.
“I’m also optimistic about Eric Ebron’s chances of making an impact at tight end alongside Vance McDonald”, Barnwell added of the team’s big free agent acquisition. “Pittsburgh will need Roethlisberger to stay healthy to put up big numbers, but this is a young, talented core of weapons”.
Over the past four years, the Steelers have drafted four wide receivers in the second and third rounds and four running backs in the third through fifth rounds. They have acquired two former high draft picks at tight end during that time as well. This should be a very talented offense. They have to go out and show it now.