Bleacher Report Sees Steelers Offensive Weapons Shining In Latest ‘Hot Takes’ Article

It’s the dead of the offseason. I’m fantasizing about the 2023 NFL Draft already. Alex Kozora is getting interviews with players and doing film breakdowns on defensive line techniques/gap schemes. Dave Bryan is checking the salary cap reports daily to make sure everything is in balance.

Needless to say, we are all ready for football to start up again later this month. So are other media outlets that have been scrounging up article ideas to keep content flowing on their respective sites. Bleacher Report recently published in article by Joe Tansey that highlights three “hot takes” for the Pittsburgh Steelers, specifically their offensive weapons for the upcoming 2022 season.

This is the season for hot takes, breakouts, sleepers, and busts before actual football is played. The speculation can be downright exhausting at times, but it still adds to the year-round machine that we have come to know the National Football League to be. So, go ahead and sit back, grab some popcorn, and let’s see what these hot takes are all about.

Hot Take #1: Najee Harris Takes Aim at 1,500 Yard Season and Rushing Title

Tansey’s first hot take revolves around RB Najee Harris cracking 1,500 rushing yards in 2022 and pushing Colts RB Jonathan Taylor for the rushing crown next season:

“Harris could pose a tougher challenge to Taylor in the rushing title race in 2022 because of how much the Steelers will call on him with a rookie quarterback on the field,” Tansey said regarding Harris. “Harris only had one 100-yard rushing performance in the first eight games of his rookie season. He could easily eclipse that in 2022 with a larger set of responsibilities. Harris can also increase his touchdown production and become one of the most coveted fantasy football running backs. He reached the end zone seven times on the ground in 2022. It is not unrealistic to think he will double that touchdown total if Pittsburgh increases its red-zone trips under Pickett.”

I can get behind some of Tansey’s points her regarding Harris. While it has been mentioned multiple times during OTA and mandatory minicamp that Pittsburgh will look to take Harris off the field more often than they did last season, that doesn’t necessarily mean less overall work for the second-year workhorse. The team totaled 664 pass attempts last season (4th in the NFL) but ranked 28th in the league with 411 attempts. Should Pittsburgh try to get back to more of a balanced offense with Ben Roethlisberger no longer under center and alleviate the pressure on Trubisky/Pickett in their first year with the team, we easily could see more rush attempts this season, leading to another heavy workload for Harris on the ground.

Unless Pittsburgh adds another free agent RB prior to the start of the season or one of the UDFAs impresses, they don’t currently have a back capable of keeping Harris off the field for prolonged periods of time, meaning that he will have to be out there for the offense to operate the best it can. While I think that Tansey’s take of Harris doubling his rushing TD total from seven to 14 this season may be a little optimistic, I do think that he should push to be one of the top backs in rushing yards again in 2022. He likely won’t beat out Taylor for the #1 spot, but 1,500 yards with an increased focus on the run game is plausible.

Hot Take #2: Steelers Produce Pair of 1,000 Yard Receivers

This take isn’t terribly far-fetched either, and honestly, is probably more attainable than the first. While Pittsburgh’s overall pass attempts may expect to go down from where they have been with Ben at the helm of the offense, their explosive plays down the field with a more mobile QB under center should expect to rise some. Pittsburgh has one 1,000-yard receiver in Diontae Johnson returning and has Chase Claypool who wasn’t too far off last year coming into Year Three hopefully ready to take a step forward.

“Those numbers came with an aging Ben Roethlisberger under center, who was unable to unleash deep balls or move in the pocket successfully,” said Tansey. “Johnson recorded 107 receptions and 1,161 receptions off 169 targets last season. Claypool caught 59 of his 105 targets for 860 yards. If Claypool improves on his 56.2 reception percentage, he can make a push for the 1,000-yard mark. Johnson should be on that pace from the start of the season as the team’s No. 1 target.”

As mentioned above, the mobility of Trubisky and Pickett compared to Roethlisberger as well as the willingness to extend plays and attack down the field more compared to the short dink-and-dunk passing game Ben became known for the last couple of seasons could lead to both Johnson and Claypool making more explosive plays in the passing game. This isn’t to say the Roethlisberger never attacked downfield, but rather his accuracy wasn’t great in that area, and he resorted to using his processing at the LOS to paper cut the defense down the field one short pass at a time to get the offense in scoring position.

On the other hand, Pittsburgh will have to rely on Pickett or Trubisky to effectively man the offense which may be a tough task out of the gate. On top of that, the team also has Harris, George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, and Pat Freiermuth (more on him later) that could soak up targets to keep Johnson and Claypool from having a bigger impact. Still, even if Johnson’s target share drops a little, he still should have a good shot of eclipsing 1,000 yards in 17 games. The same goes for Claypool who could thrive more down the field on in a big slot role in 2022, being just 140 yards shy from the 1,000-yard mark last season.

Hot Take #3: Pat Freiermuth Enters Premier Tight End Conversation

What does one consider a “Premier Tight End”? Well, I’d assume that classification meets the other top TEs in the league including Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Mark Andrews, and Darren Waller. Pat Freiermuth wasn’t that prolific in his rookie season, but he still matched or exceeded expectations, catching 60 passes for 497 yards and seven TDs. This came on only playing 62% (683) of the snaps in 2021 which only should rise now that he doesn’t have to worry about splitting time with Eric Ebron in 2022 like he did to start 2021.

“He could be the reason that Johnson or Claypool do not reach the 1,000-yard mark because of how often he could be targeted by Pickett,” Tansey said on Freiermuth. “He could add to his fantasy value and stock among NFL tight ends if he adds a few hundred yards to his receiving total. That is possible if he becomes a reliable target across the middle for his rookie quarterback. Freiermuth’s high catch rate and red-zone presence could take him from the middle tier of NFL tight ends to as high as one of the top five players at his position if everything goes right in 2022.”

One thing that sticks out in Tansey’s piece is that he seems convinced that Kenny Pickett is going to win the job outright to start the season which tends to go against the notion coming out of minicamp that Trubisky is indeed the favorite to start Week 1 as we sit here today. Regardless of if it’s Trubisky or Pickett, Freiermuth should be in position to make another leap forward heading into Year Two as most TEs do going from their rookie season into their second of third year in the league. He should see more snaps to start the year compared to 2021 and will provide a nice safety blanket for either QB in the intermediate portions of the field as well as in the red zone.

It may be tough to see his yardage spike immensely given all the other weapons available in the passing game, but Freiermuth still should be a legit end zone threat given his big body and sure hands mentioned above. Top five at the position may be a too optimistic in 2022 with the names mentioned above as well as Kyle Pitts possibly taking a step forward next year as well, but Freiermuth could improve to the point where he’s knocking on the door of top five, sitting with the likes of Dalton Schultz and Dallas Goedert this season and have a chance to take another leap in 2023.

What are your thoughts on the hot takes posed here for the Steelers? Which one do you find the most believable and which one do you find the most far-fetched? Do you think any of these three come true in 2022? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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