One of the most important predictors of long-term future success in the NFL is measuring a team based on its young talent. Granted, ‘age’ is relative to a position; whereas 30 is old for a running back, it is often the prime of a quarterback’s career. A frequent benchmark that outside observers use is to take stock of the talent that a team has that remains under the age of 25.
For ESPN, the Pittsburgh Steelers rank sixth in the NFL heading into the 2020 season based on their under-25 talent, which possesses a list headlined by the likes of Minkah Fitzpatrick, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Devin Bush. The former has already been a first-team All-Pro, while Smith-Schuster has been a Pro Bowler. Bush, a rookie in 2019, nearly went to the Pro Bowl last year.
One very important note here is that arguably the Steelers’ greatest player (outside of Ben Roethlisberger, if healthy) is just barely disqualified. That would be T.J. Watt, who is actually currently 24, but will turn 25 during the 2020 season–on October 11, specifically. If Watt were included in the list, the team would probably rank higher.
Notably absent on the list of headliners are James Washington and Diontae Johnson as well, who are both 24 and will not turn 25 until next year. While they still have a lot to prove, they are talents that factor into this discussion. Terrell Edmunds and Benny Snell are also to be considered. These players, as well as rookies Chase Claypool and Anthony McFarland, do get mentioned in the meat of the Steelers’ entry, however.
“If he can make modest improvements to his 18.3 percent broken tackle rate”, it reads of Bush, “he’ll deserve Pro Bowl consideration”. Lavish praise was given to Fitzpatrick, described as “a blue chip player and, at 23 years old and with three years left on his rookie contract, well worth the first-round pick the team traded for him”.
Noting that Edmunds was “less productive” than was Fitzpatrick, he nonetheless “did offer impressive totals of 41 run stops and with 15 run defeats to counterbalance an uninspiring 46% coverage success rate”, adding that a more secure relationship with Fitzpatrick will also be to his benefit.
Ideally, all of the players mentioned above will continue to be a part of the Steelers’ core for the next several years, but it is inevitable that they will lose some. Smith-Schuster, for example, is a free agent next offseason, as is the 25-year-old James Conner, and it is questionable at best if they will successfully retain either one of their Pro Bowl skill players.