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Ranking the Starters: No. 15-13

The third official practice of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 training camp is nearly over as I move further into my Ranking the Starters series here at Steelers Depot.

Though actual football is here and ready to be talked about, it’s still fun for me to continue to push on in the offseason rankings, which I’ll do here today, ranking the Steelers’ starters No. 15-13.

Just as a reminder, here’s how the 2020 rankings went ahead of the 2020 season.

As we continue, I’ll give you a brief rundown of names to expect in this series as I make my starters projections. Those names italicized are already in the rankings to start the series.

Offense

QB — Ben Roethlisberger
RB — Najee Harris
WR — JuJu Smith-Schuster
WR – Diontae Johnson
WR – Chase Claypool
TE — Eric Ebron
LT — Chukwuma Okorafor
LG — Kevin Dotson
C — Kendrick Green
RG — Trai Turner
RT – Zach Banner

Defense

DE — Cameron Heyward
DE — Stephon Tuitt
OLB — Alex Highsmith
ILB — Devin Bush

ILB — Robert Spillane
OLB — TJ Watt
CB — Joe Haden
CB — Cameron Sutton

CB – James Pierre
S — Minkah Fitzpatrick
S — Terrell Edmunds

Specialists

K – Chris Boswell
P — Jordan Berry

Last note before we dive in here: here’s how the list started out this season:

  • No. 24 — Jordan Berry
  • No. 23 — James Pierre
  • No. 22 — Chukwuma Okorafor
  • No. 21 — Zach Banner
  • No. 20 — Kendrick Green
  • No. 19 — Robert Spillane
  • No. 18 — Trai Turner
  • No. 17 — Kevin Dotson
  • No. 16 — Eric Ebron

No. 15 – Alex Highsmith, OLB

I seem to be much higher than most on Alex Highsmith ahead of the 2021 season. I thought he put together some strong games in relief of Bud Dupree down the stretch in 2020 and absolutely dominated against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16.

Though he’s not the flashiest or the most explosive player, he knows how to rush the passer and is fundamentally sound setting the edge against the run. With an increased starting role opposite All-Pro T.J. Watt, Highsmith should become a well-known name in the Steelers’ front seven.

Melvin Ingram will certainly eat into his snaps, but this is Highsmith’s starting job to lose opposite Watt. Here’s betting he doesn’t and has a strong first year as a starter.

No. 14 — Chris Boswell, K

That 2018 season in which Chris Boswell struggled mightily seems like it was a lifetime ago doesn’t it?

Though he’s not a household name like a Justin Tucker in Baltimore, Boswell is incredibly consistent having converted 93.5% and 95% the last two seasons in Pittsburgh, providing the Steelers with one of the best kicking games in the NFL overall.

Since that tough season in which he dealt with an injury, Boswell has missed just three kick from 40 yards or beyond, becoming seemingly an automatic three points once the Steelers cross midfield.

No. 13 — Cameron Sutton, CB

The 2020 season was a coming-out party for cornerback Cameron Sutton, who enters his fifth season in the NFL.

Seeing more playing time in 2020, Sutton recorded a career high in tackles (30) and passes defensed (8), while tying his career high in sacks (1.0) and interceptions (1) as the No. 4 cornerback for the Steelers.

Now, Sutton elevates into a starting role for the Steelers following the departure of Steven Nelson at outside corner and Mike Hilton in the slot. Sutton provides a lot of versatility and experience at the position and appears comfortable and confident in Keith Butler’s defensive system, which should do wonders for him as he moves into a starting role.

It will be nice if Sutton can turn some of those passes defensed into interceptions in 2021.

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