Over the past few months, the Pittsburgh Steelers have performed an overhaul of sorts on the roster when looking back at the team that took the field in 2020. Gone are the long-term stalwarts including Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Matt Feiler, James Conner, Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson to name a few. The team elected to select Najee Harris 24th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft to hopefully solve the RB problem with a feature back and plan to implement second-year pro Alex Highsmith into the Dupree role opposite T.J. Watt, hoping he builds off of his rookie season to progress as a full-time starter. While the team has made additions along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield, those are two positions that still remain shaky to say the least as the Steelers Depot crew emphasized on this past edition of The Terrible Podcast.
Currently, Chuks Okorafor is slated to start at LT after playing most of his three seasons on the right side of the football. Zach Banner returns to play at the RT spot, and Kevin Dotson and recent signee Trai Turner look to fill in at the guard spots. A training camp battle is likely to ensue with Kendrick Green, B.J. Finney, and J.C. Hassenauer for the center job. There is a lot of youth and potential here with several of these players, along with depth guys like Rashaad Coward and rookie Dan Moore Jr., but it would be a stretch to call any of these guys a “sure thing” given the lack of experience, return from injury, and other factors to be considered.
When we look at the secondary, more specifically the cornerback room, we see a massive drop-off in experience after grizzled veteran Joe Haden and Cam Sutton, who just resigned with the team this offseason. Losing Hilton and Nelson cost the Steelers two experienced corners on the boundary and inside at the nickel, meaning that the team will have to make a decision whether to move Sutton outside to the perimeter which seems to be what they are leaning towards given what has been said after bring him back, or if they should kick him back inside in sub packages and have another corner come in and play opposite Haden on the boundary. Pittsburgh has the likes of Justin Layne and James Pierre as guys who have the length and frame to figuratively fill in on the outside as well as guys like Antoine Brooks Jr., Arthur Maulet, Shakur Brown, and Tre Norwood who could fill in at the nickel and contribute either in run support or in coverage over the middle of the field.
While many of these guys are young players who possess some potential for their prospective roles, many of them outside of Maulet have less than 50 total defensive snaps under their belts (or no snaps at all when talking about the rookies), and will need more experience and development to execute effectively at the NFL level, leaving the defense susceptible to growing pains should these guys be thrust into prominent roles from the get-go. I’m all for getting experience for the young guys to know what you have, but a trial-by-fire approach will lead to blown coverages as we have seen in the past, thus likely resulting in points scored which will turn the tide of games.
So, with that being said, it is often mentioned in the national media that 2022 will be the year the Steelers target their QB of the future in the draft should Ben Roethlisberger ride off into the sunset after 2021. While this is a sensible avenue for the team to follow, I question whether it would be the right one. As we well know, a young, rookie QB is often set up for success with a good supporting cast around him and can have his development stunted or stopped altogether if he doesn’t have the team around him to be successful in the NFL. Given the team already has Mason Rudolph signed through 2022 and can retain Dwayne Haskins for chump change should he prove to be worth keeping around after the season as a developmental guy, it may be a wiser play to hold off likely trading up in the draft to select a QB should Pittsburgh play themselves out of contention for a top pick in pursuit of the playoffs, and rather turn their sights at building up the rest of the roster to support their current QBs on the team and provide a potential future signal caller a stronger supporting cast to help his development and transition to the league.
Given the uncertainty regarding Okorafor as a FA after the season, Banner coming back from an ACL tear, and the needed development of Dan Moore Jr. as more of a project tackle, offensive tackle should be high on the Steelers projected needs going into the 2022 offseason. Likewise, with Joe Haden entering the twilight of his career, the question of whether Sutton can be the #2 option on the outside, and the lack of overall depth and pedigree behind those two guys, cornerback should also be high on the Steelers’ list of potential positions to target in the 2022 offseason. After just starting my summer scouting draft analysis on the 2022 draft class, I can say that there are some talented prospects at both the OT and CB positions that could hear their names called early next spring. It’s a long ways away from the 2022 NFL Draft, and we have the entire preseason and regular season to see how some of these pieces either succeed or fail in their roles in 2021. However, it’s never too early to recognize some potential glaring needs at two prominent positions on the team and consider which one should take precedent over the other.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster heading into the 2021 season? More specifically, what do you think of the OT and CB rooms? Which one would you prioritize as the bigger need to be addressed and why would you lean that way? Like always, post your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!