CBS’ Cody Benjamin released his latest NFL power rankings with the Pittsburgh Steelers finishing nearly smack dab in the middle, listed 17th overall. In his write-up and evaluation of the team, Benjamin says:
“Mike Tomlin hasn’t necessarily had top-15 QB play for the better part of three years, so the uncertainty of Mitchell Trubisky or Kenny Pickett under center probably won’t break this club’s spirits. Besides, the line is revamped with new guard James Daniels, and the foundation is there for a physical, old-school approach: Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth and the WR trio of Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and George Pickens are a young but feisty bunch. If anything’s gonna keep Pittsburgh in the hunt, though, it’s the “D,” which still has big questions at corner, where fliers like Levi Wallace and Akhello Witherspoon will take over, but boasts some of the game’s top disruptors in T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick.”
While there’s no question Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t playing at a high level the last two years of his career, the team will still miss his ability to run the offense, especially late in the game. He had the experience and veteran savvy to rally the team. In his last year, he set career highs in game-winning drives (seven) and fourth quarter comebacks (six), while the Steelers had a sterling record in close games. It’d be asking a lot for Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett to come up just as large in those moments. Those two, along with Mason Rudolph, will battle for the starting job this summer. Trubisky enters camp as the favorite.
Instead, Pittsburgh will rely on their ground game centered around Najee Harris. That’ll require an offensive line to block much better than they have each of the past two years. Harris finding running room was a rarity last season. He finished the year averaging just 3.9 YPC, becoming the first running back with 300+ carries and a sub 4.0 YPC since Steven Jackson, Rashard Mendenhall, and Cedric Benson all did so in 2010. As Benjamin mentions, adding James Daniels was Pittsburgh’s splashy move of the offseason, but the unit must play better individually and collectively. On paper, the Steelers have an intriguing set of weapons but plenty of guys looking to bounce back (Chase Claypool) and rookies hoping to prove their worth (George Pickens, Calvin Austin).
As the article notes, Pittsburgh will rely on the strength of their defense. Calling Levi Wallace and Ahkello Witherspoon “fliers” seems a bit harsh but the Steelers’ front seven will hopefully be their better half, helping the secondary create more turnovers than they managed last year. Special teams is an underrated aspect not talked about, with Chris Boswell being one of the game’s top kickers while punter Pressley Harvin III is feeling the heat this summer.
Pittsburgh finished last among the AFC North teams in these rankings. The Cleveland Browns were closest at #15 followed by the Baltimore Ravens at #10 and Cincinnati Bengals at #5. The Buffalo Bills took the top spot. Overall, putting the Steelers 17th is a fair, conventional assessment, the safe play as we near the end of the offseason.