The Pittsburgh Steelers have devoted a lot of premium draft resources on their offensive skill positions and the quarterback position over the course of the past two drafts—while retaining two starting wide receivers from their two classes prior to that, still on their rookie contracts.
Even with all of the change that we have seen in these areas the past two years, at least on paper, there is a lot to be excited about—that’s what Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus thinks, at least, talking about the Steelers’ skill position group on the Cris Collinsworth podcast.
“I think if you were to pose the question of—maybe the Cincinnati Bengals are the answer to the question—but factoring in age and all of that, which group of weapons in the NFL would you want to start your team with?”, he suggested.
“Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth at tight end, and Najee Harris at running back — that is a stellar unit”, he continued. “I think they had a good free agency, adding some offensive line help in Mason Cole and James Daniels”.
Johnson, a Pro Bowler last season, was their 66th-overall pick in 2019. Chase Claypool was drafted in the second round a year later. In 2021, they drafted Najee Harris in the first round and then Pat Freiermuth in the second. Back in April, they drafted two more wide receivers, George Pickens in the second and Calvin Austin III in the fourth.
“The quarterback, though, that’s the big question”, Spielberger said, stating what we were all thinking.
As tends to be the case, some fan opinions about Johnson have, let’s say, evolved recently, coincided with discussions about his contract status and what he’s worth. Claypool has been criticized a lot for his play last year, though it certainly was not nearly as bad as it’s most often made out to be. Not enough to assume that his rookie season was a fluke.
Harris, like Johnson, went to the Pro Bowl last year, and as mentioned, they did upgrade the offensive line, so that should offer some modest improvement in his ability to run the ball at least. And Freiermuth was sure-handed and a red-zone threat already as a rookie.
But do the Steelers have a quarterback who can actually make use of all of these players—including Pickens, and possibly Austin as well? Ben Roethlisberger is gone, but arguably even he wasn’t doing that at the end of his career.
They signed veteran Mitch Trubisky in free agency, and then they drafted Kenny Pickett in the first round. Mason Rudolph is still here as well. Can one of them offer the offense some semblance of a passing game to prevent them from being one-dimensional?