While the Pittsburgh Steelers have experienced more changeover than is typical for them, if you really take a good look at it, you can probably make a really strong stab at accurately predicting all 11 starting jobs come September right now. Barring injuries, anyway. Alex Highsmith steps in for Bud Dupree, for example. Chukwuma Okorafor will be at left tackle, unless Dan Moore Jr. is ready to play.
The biggest question mark by far is who the third cornerback will be. After losing Mike Hilton in free agency and releasing Steven Nelson as a salary cap casualty, the Steelers have to figure out who they will pair with Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton as the fifth-year player assumes a full-time role for the first time.
Pro Football Focus recently put together an article in which they attempt to project the starting rosters of all 32 teams, and it’s more or less what you would expect. The only thing that could conceivably qualify as a surprise is their listing 2020 undrafted free agent James Pierre as a starting cornerback, but it’s acknowledged that this is a spot in high contention:
There has been much talk this offseason about the Steelers’ offensive line, but the cornerback position is in a similarly precarious spot following the departures of Steven Nelson outside and Mike Hilton in the slot.
Cameron Sutton is all but guaranteed a starting job with Joe Haden after the team re-signed him to a two-year, $9 million contract this offseason. It just remains to be seen whether he plays outside or as the nickel. Sutton played over 200 snaps in both alignments last season. Meanwhile, 2019 third-round pick Justin Layne and 2020 undrafted free agent James Pierre will be the primary competitors for the third starting spot in nickel, but Arthur Maulet and Shakur Brown could also factor into the competition.
You could even throw in seventh-round pick Tre Norwood for good measure. College free agent Lamont Wade specifically cited the departure of Hilton as one of the reasons that he felt the Steelers could be a good fit for him.
This won’t be the only training camp battle for a starting job — rookie Kendrick Green is still going to have to earn the center role, even if he is the presumptive favorite, for example — but it certainly figures to have the widest and most even playing field.
Justin Layne and Pierre figure to have the first shot. Both of them were on the roster last season, have developed in their system, and have even seen defensive playing time. But Maulet has more experience in the NFL, while Norwood and Brown both have intriguing traits that have yet to be explored