In anticipation to the Pittsburgh Steelers last preseason game of 2021, I wanted to look at a few things before I can provide information after the game. Multiple reports suggest that the Panthers plan to play the majority of their starters, unlike the Steelers planning to sit some key players. If this indeed happens, it should provide more value to evaluating the Steelers players performance, position battles, and guys fighting to make the 53-man roster in this game. This also means we will get an opportunity to see more action from the younger players, so I wanted to put a table together of the 2021 draft picks for both teams heading into the game (data: Pro Football Reference):
|2021 Draft Picks: Steelers Vs. Panthers|
|CAR||2||59||Terrace Marshall Jr.||O||WR|
|PIT||4||128||Dan Moore Jr.||O||OL|
|PIT||7||254||Pressley Harvin III||S||P|
|By: Clayton Eckert | Data: PFR|
Other than getting a reminder of how the draft played out for both teams, I also saw some takeaways for the game. The Panthers selected Jaycee Horn with the eighth overall selection, a guy that I had as the second overall cornerback in the draft process with physicality and press-man coverage skills. I really hope we get to see Horn match up against some of the Steelers wide receivers, personally I would love to see him against Chase Claypool (if he plays) or James Washington.
Four picks after the Steelers selected Freiermuth, the Panthers took wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. I really like the challenge he could present for the Steelers secondary with his size, speed, and ability to get open, and personally would love to see James Pierre get to match up with Terrace. Brady Christensen was the first of two third round selections for the Panthers, an offensive lineman with good overall athletic traits but his NFL position was debatable in the draft process. In the preseason he has mostly played right tackle, but also has taken snaps at both guard positions. Cassius Marsh has logged all but one of his snaps at left edge this preseason, so this could be a nice matchup for him to hopefully have a stronger showing than last game.
With the Panthers next third round selection, they took tight end Tommy Tremble. He was definitely a popular name to many Steelers fans in the draft process, and a guy who possesses good blocking skills. Personally, I am thankful we drafted Pat Freiermuth for his skill and higher potential to be a more well-rounded tight end in the NFL in my opinion. It will be very fun to see who has the stronger performance.
On day three of the draft the Panthers selected Chuba Hubbard in the fourth round. The main concern I had for him in the draft process was ball security, and he had a fumble in Carolina’s last game. I’m hoping Hubbard will lineup against some of the Steelers third stringers and see what the run defense looks like. Daviyon Nixon and Keith Taylor were the fifth-round selections for the Panthers, Nixon was a good value this late in the draft in my opinion with good overall potential for the defensive tackle position.
I’m interested to see which of the Steelers interior offensive lineman matchup with Daviyon and how some of those battles pan out. Taylor is a cornerback that has good overall athletic and physical traits that could become valuable with more development, and my hope is we get to see him lineup against Anthony Johnson and/or Cody White.
The Panthers made three selections in the sixth round, and they began with drafting offensive lineman Deonte Brown from Alabama. I thought the Panthers got good value here again in selecting a large and strong run game type guard that I believe fits the mold of lacking quickness but can be difficult for defenders to get around because of his size. Their second selection in the sixth round was wide receiver Shi Smith, a guy I enjoyed in the draft process as a slot-type receiver with good overall athleticism but struggled against bigger cornerbacks.
The Panthers’ last pick in the sixth round was long snapper Thomas Fletcher. Since I did not evaluate long snappers, I looked at Pro Football Focus and he is poorly graded so far in the preseason. Carolina also has veteran J.J. Hansen that has been graded much higher so far this preseason and eight accrued seasons all with the Panthers. Defensive tackle Phil Hoskins was the final pick for the Panthers, a defensive tackle that I did not have on my radar to be drafted.
This week the Steelers will not play Najee Harris, so it will be great to see the backups battle for their spots on the depth chart and in some cases whether or not they will make the 53-man roster. Anthony McFarland will be fun to watch in this game, but my focus for the running backs will be on Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, and Tony Brooks-James. Hopefully they all get to play so we can get more of a gauge at what the roster may look like for the regular season. Really interested to see how Pat Freiermuth plays after his strong performance last game, especially want to see his run blocking continue to improve since proving that should allow him to get on the field more in the regular season. Zach Gentry and Kevin Rader will have more of my attention though, an interesting battle for the third tight end spot.
In my opinion, Gentry would be my choice as of today and looking for Rader to have a strong performance to close the preseason. Kendrick Green struggled in pass protection last game and want to see if he can make some improvements against the Panthers. He particularly struggled against the Lions 3-4 scheme when their nose tackle was lined up over center (0 tech). We will likely see less of this alignment in the Panthers’ game due to their 4-3 scheme and want to see if he has a stronger performance and if there seems to be any correlation with the alignment observation.
Dan Moore Jr. has been a pleasant surprise overall this preseason, and especially want to track his performance compared to Chukwuma Okorafor. Chuks has not stepped up to the level of play I expected from him yet moving to the left tackle position, and really hope he can close out the preseason with a strong game against a good defensive line. Continuing to track Buddy Johnson’s special teams play will be on my list again, it would be very encouraging to see him make a play or two in this regard since that would likely be his path to playing time in the regular season. I really want to see if Isaiahh Loudermilk can show some improvements in his play recognition this game, especially locating running backs on rushing plays and disengaging from blocks. Quincy Roche will be higher on my radar this game, and how the guys battling for depth and roster spots at the edge position perform.
Outside of the top three (T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Ingram), I’m really excited to see how the group behind them closes out the preseason: Jamir Jones, Cassius Marsh, and Quincy Roche since the Steelers will likely make at least one cut from these names. Tre Norwood had a stronger performance overall last game, has been good on special teams, and is leading the team in total snaps. Looking for him to continue to build on some improvements on defense, but his roster spot seems safe barring a signing to improve depth.
Last but not least, I hope we get to see the punters more in this game. There was only one punt opportunity in the last game, and while I would never wish for this in the regular season, I really want Pressley Harvin and Jordan Berry to get chances to earn their roster spot in this close battle.
Dwayne Haskins will get the start, how do you think he will perform? What are you looking forward to the most in this game? How will the rookies do compared to last game? How about non-rookies? What position battles will you have your eyes on the most? After the game I will look at snaps and performance and continue to get answers to our questions regarding the 2021 Steelers. Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!