Ranking the Starters: No. 6-4

JuJu Smith-Schuster against the Kansas City Chiefs

The second full week of Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 training camp is officially in the books 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. 6-4. Also, the Hall of Fame Game is just days away, so there’s that, as well.

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.


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


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


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
  • No. 14 — Chris Boswell
  • No. 13 — Cameron Sutton
  • No. 12 — Terrell Edmunds
  • No. 11 — Najee Harris
  • No. 10 — Chase Claypool
  • No. 9 — Diontae Johnson
  • No. 8 — Devin Bush
  • No. 7 — Joe Haden

No. 6 — JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR 

I’m much higher than most on JuJu Smith-Schuster overall. He’s a perfect slot receiver for the Steelers offense, one that fights for the extra yardage, is a good blocker and consistently makes the tough catches and the big plays when needed.

Some folks can’t seem to get past his harmless personality, which is fine, but don’t knock the player. He’s legitimate.

Currently I have him as the best receiver on the roster, largely due to his propensity to move the chains and make the money catches without and of the true drop issues (just three drops on 128 targets in 2020). Analysts want to knock him for his numbers last season (8.6 yards per reception), but won’t add nuance to the discussion, considering how the Steelers’ offense functioned last year and what was asked of Smith-Schuster.

Personally, I’m betting on a big year from No. 19 in Matt Canada’s offense with a fully recharged Ben Roethlisberger. Speaking of Big Ben…

No. 5 — Ben Roethlisberger, QB

This is the lowest I’ve had Ben Roethlisberger in this ranking in the four years I’ve put this list together. I think it’s fitting.

Roethlisberger is still a good quarterback that can lead the Steelers to wins. His arm is not shot, but his knees might be, which is understandable. I think it was more his lower half than his right arm that wore down late in 2020, leading to an epic collapse by the Steelers.

He’s still Big Ben though, the guy who is afraid of no throw and take as many shots down the field as possible. If he can dial in a bit better on deep balls, in terms of accuracy, this offense will be just fine.

If this is the last ride for 7, I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it.

No. 4 — Cameron Heyward, DE

Cameron Heyward outside of the top 3? Blasphemous?

I think this ranking says more about the three ahead of Heyward than it does about Heyward overall. He did have a down year in 2020, but that has to be attributed to his role change due to the Tyson Alualu injury as the Steelers asked Heyward to occupy more blocks, which opened up rush lanes for Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Alex Highsmith.

Make no mistake: Heyward isn’t slowing down. He’s still a phenomenal five-tech that can wreck opposing offenses. I hope he has another 5-7 good years ahead of him.

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