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Ranking The Steelers’ Starters: No. 9-7

We’ve made it, Steelers fans. Training camp has arrived. No more silly offseason fodder featuring lists, rankings, meaningless accolades, and more!

Err, wait a minute. Hold fast on that thought for just a bit. We still have to close out our Ranking the Rooms and Ranking the Steelers’ Starters series here at Steelers Depot. Stay with me here!

As I dive further and further into this series, I am finding it much, much harder to figure out how to rank the projected starters for the black and gold ahead of the 2022 season. I believe the Steelers got better in the offseason and added a lot of talent. That’s making it challenging to flush it all out.

Before we dive further into my rankings, I wanted to lay out my projected starters for the season as we draw nearer to Steelers’ Training Camp. Below, I went with 11 personnel and a three-receiver set offensively, while going with the Steelers’ sub-package defense.

If a name is in italics, it means they’ve appeared on the list to day. You’ll see 15 names below already in italics.

Offense
QB — Mitch Trubisky
RB — Najee Harris
WR — George Pickens
WR – Diontae Johnson
WR – Chase Claypool
TE — Pat Freiermuth
LT — Dan Moore Jr.
LG — Kevin Dotson
C — Mason Cole
RG — James Daniels
RT – Chukwuma Okorafor

Defense
DE — Cameron Heyward
DE — Tyson Alualu
OLB — Alex Highsmith
ILB — Devin Bush

ILB — Myles Jack
OLB — TJ Watt
CB — Ahkello Witherspoon
CB — Cameron Sutton

CB – Levi Wallace 
S — Minkah Fitzpatrick
S — Terrell Edmunds

Specialists
K – Chris Boswell
P — Pressley Harvin III

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

  • No. 24 — Pressley Harvin III, P
  • No. 23 — Devin Bush, ILB
  • No. 22 — Dan Moore Jr., LT
  • No. 21 — Mason Cole, C
  • No. 20 — George Pickens, WR 
  • No. 19 — Chukwuma Okorafor, RT 
  • No. 18 — Kevin Dotson, LG 
  • No. 17 — Mitch Trubisky, QB 
  • No. 16 — Cameron Sutton, CB 
  • No. 15 — Levi Wallace, CB
  • No. 14 — Terrell Edmunds, S
  • No. 13 — Tyson Alualu, iDL
  • No. 12 — Myles Jack, LB
  • No. 11 — Ahkello Witherspoon, CB
  • No. 10 — Chase Claypool, WR 

No. 9 — James Daniels, RG

The signing of James Daniels was my favorite move of a busy offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A versatile interior offensive lineman, Daniels has been a solid player in the NFL regardless of what position he’s holding down on a weekly basis. In Pittsburgh, he’s aiming to lock down the right guard spot for the next few seasons.

Just 24 years old, Daniels’ best football is still ahead of him, or so the Steelers are hoping. After a disastrous 2021 season by the Steelers’ offensive line, Daniels appears to be the anchor of a rebuilt unit that should take a sizable step forward in 2022. He’s a powerful run blocker and is sound in pass protection, using his anchor well along with great footwork to win matchups inside.

He’s not the flashiest player overall, and certainly doesn’t bring the major name recognition overall, but he’s going to be a steady presence for the black and gold on the offensive line, which is something the team desperately needs moving forward.

No. 8 — Pat Freiermuth, TE

Tight ends historically are supposed to have slow transitions to the NFL.

Pat Freiermuth threw caution to the wind as a rookie in 2021, turning in a rather impressive first season in the NFL with the black and gold. Freiermuth hauled in 60 passes for 497 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season, emerging as a go-to weapon for the Steelers, especially in the red zone.

Though Ben Roethlisberger has retired and the Steelers are breaking in a trio of new quarterbacks in training camp, Freiermuth remains as a true pass-catching weapon within the Steelers’ offense entering Year 2 under offensive coordinator Matt Canada. If Freiermuth can stretch the middle of the field a bit more in 2022, look out.

He was often utilized 10 yards and in throughout his rookie season in an offense that was a bit handicapped overall. The ability to work vertically, win against safeties and linebackers over the middle and make plays after the catch is there with the former Penn State star. A big second season could be on the horizon.

No. 7 — Alex Highsmith, OLB

If there’s one player in this series that I believe could take a substantial jump forward in next year’s version, it’s Alex Highsmith. I’m very high on the third-year pass rusher. He can get lost in the shadows of T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward in the Steelers’ front seven, but he’s quietly become a good pass rusher overall, one that has a handful of go-to moves to win off the edge.

Though the numbers might not be there, in terms of sacks, Highsmith is playing at a high level overall, both as a pass rusher and run defender, which is exactly what the Steelers were hoping for when they drafted him in third round out of Charlotte in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The pressure numbers are there with 35 total in 456 pass rush reps in 2021. In 2022, those pressures could be converted into sacks, which could see Highsmith’s game rise to another level opposite Watt. If that happens, the Steelers’ defense would be very difficult to deal with, especially off the edge.

Based on his trajectory in recent seasons, the sky is the limit for Highsmith in the black and gold.

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