Steelers’ Offensive Weapons Ranked 12th In NFL By ESPN’s Bill Barnwell

With a trio of new faces projected to start on a rebuild offense, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a seemingly entirely new look to them offensively under second-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

That tends to be the case when an 18-year Hall of Fame quarterback retires like Ben Roethlisberger did following an up and down 2021 season that resulted in a lackluster blowout loss in the AFC Wild Card Round.

Now, after signing veteran quarterback Mitch Trubisky in free agency, adding right guard James Daniels and center Mason Cole on the open market as well, and drafting first-round quarterback Kenny Pickett No. 20 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Steelers’ offense has a new look to it at some key positions.

Good news is, the Steelers remain relatively loaded at the skill positions with the likes of Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth and Najee Harris still in the fold. Have those four to build around offensively, as well as rookie wide receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III, the Steelers are set at the skill position no matter who is under center this season and beyond.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell seems to agree, moving the Steelers’ skill players up three spots in his offensive playmakers rankings Thursday morning for ESPN, placing the Steelers No. 12 overall. Previously, the Steelers ranked No. 15 in Barwell’s rankings ahead of the 2021 season, and No. 13 ahead of the 2020 season.

“The Steelers ran plenty of plays in 2021, but they weren’t efficient, which made their raw numbers look more impressive than they might actually have been in reality. Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson ranked 63rd and 65th, respectively, in receiving DVOA. Pat Freiermuth was 20th among tight ends. Najee Harris ranked 40th in receiving DVOA among running backs. Nobody could escape the vortex of Ben Roethlisberger,” Barnwell writes regarding the Steelers’ ranking at No. 12 in his piece. “With Roethlisberger limited to short throws and lobs down either sideline, it might be tempting to assume Harris was facing flooded boxes. That wasn’t really the case. NFL Next Gen Stats data notes that Harris faced loaded boxes just 16.6% of the time, which was the second-lowest rate in football among backs with at least 100 carries. After accounting for defenders, he was 48 yards short of what an average back would have done with the same opportunities. The hope has to be that a more vertical passing attack frees up opportunities, but he shoulders some of the responsibility, too

“Freiermuth’s impressive rookie season gives the Steelers a de facto replacement for the departed JuJu Smith-Schuster in their passing attack. With Johnson’s future as a 2023 free agent uncertain, I wouldn’t be surprised if Freiermuth and Claypool assumed a larger share of the receiving workload,” Barnwell added. “Claypool, who went missing from the offense for stretches amid a frustrating season, is the player the Steelers — and their new quarterback, whomever he is — need to unlock in 2022.”

There is no denying it was rather rough for the black and gold offensively throughout games during the 2021 season, at least until late in games when Roethlisberger turned back the clock and mustered up some heroics, setting career-highs in fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives in his final season.

That’s unsustainable moving forward though with Trubisky and Pickett in the fold. Good news is the two quarterbacks — along with Mason Rudolph — are better fits in Canada’s scheme overall, which should open up the playbook much more, creating more splash while utilizing the whole field.

In turn, that should lead to more production and more points for the Steelers. There’s no denying the talent level at hand for the Steelers at the skill positions. It’s one of the better groups in the AFC, according to Barnwell’s rankings, placing sixth overall in the conference behind the Bengals, Raiders, Chargers, Dolphins and Bills.

The real question marks for the Steelers reside at quarterback and on the offensive line. With plenty of playmakers available, though, those questions marks should be answered rather quickly once the games start.

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