Will the Pittsburgh Steelers 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, Jeremy Fowler, Field Yates, and Seth Walder 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 2020 future ranking, the panel’s results have them seventh-overall, behind the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, and Philadelphia Eagles, with a score of 81.6.
Yates first attempted to explain in a quick overview why the Steelers are ranked where they are this year.
This exercise is about the future, but the past year is an important part of why the Steelers check in at seventh: Despite a litany of injuries and Ben Roethlisberger missing 14 games, the Steelers stayed in the playoff race until season’s end and managed an 8-8 record. They are well-coached, well-led and really good on defense.
As for the Steelers biggest worry moving forward, Riddick pointed to the Steelers quarterback position and specifically on how everything depends on the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2020 and him staying healthy.
Without Roethlisberger, this team has no shot with any of the other QBs on the roster. Coming off of major injury to his passing arm/elbow, Big Ben is the key to everything that happens in Pittsburgh. It’s that simple.
As for what could change for the better moving forward, Fowler points to the Steelers offense now needing more attention in drafts now that the defense seems to be in very good shape. Specifically, Fowler pointed to the Steelers needing to start looking for a quarterback that can succeed Roethlisberger.
Pittsburgh spent the better part of a decade using first-round picks to rebuild the defense. That side of the ball is now elite, so it’s time to give the offense the same treatment. Identifying a successor at QB should be paramount. Diontae Johnson has a chance to be a top-shelf receiver, so continue to embolden him.
Walder then finished of the evaluation on the Steelers with a key stat note.
Did you know the Steelers finished second in defensive efficiency (expected points added per play, with garbage time down-weighted) last season? Second! With young players like T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick leading the way on that side of the ball and Roethlisberger returning on offense, there is reason to believe in Pittsburgh. Plus, in Mike Tomlin’s long tenure there the Steelers have never finished worse than 17th in total efficiency, and were on a five-year top-10 streak prior to last season.
Overall, the panel’s 2020 offering on the Steelers future for the next three years is reasonably fair. After all, a year ago the Steelers were ranked sixth overall in these very rankings with a score of 84.4. In 2018 they were ranked fifth overall in these same rankings with a score of 83.8. 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 2020 score of 81.6 is the second-lowest it’s ever been since ESPN.com started these silly future rankings.
It’s quite obvious that the ESPN panel feels this year that the Steelers immediate success, at least in the next two seasons, is tied mainly to Roethlisberger as the team’s defense appears to be in great shape. The team’s overall roster minus the QB score is 82.3, which is the same as what it was in the 2017 version of these rankings. The coaching score this year of 88.8 is the highest it’s ever been in these ratings since their inception and that’s probably mainly a result of the job done last season by the team after losing Roethlisberger just six quarters into it.
Had the Steelers been given a higher draft score this year, they probably would have ranked fifth-overall ahead of both the Cowboys and Eagles. In fact, the panel only gave a draft score lower than the one they gave to the Steelers to five other teams this year. It’s also the Steelers lowest ever draft score in the history of these future rankings. They must really not like this year’s Steelers draft class when it comes to the next three years.
The quarterback score of 79.5, the lowest it’s ever been in these rankings, is likely a result of the panel’s uncertainty related to Roethlisberger making it back from his elbow injury. That, and the team’s backup situation after seeing what transpired last season at the position.
Recap Of Steelers Future Power Rankings Per ESPN.com (2014-2020)
|Overall roster (minus QB)||82.3||84.3||81.7||82.3||81.0||78.7||73.8|