It seems a bit silly to try and project three years ahead in the National Football League as so much can chance one season to the next, let alone one month to the next. Case in point: the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Still, that doesn’t stop national outlets like ESPN from trying to project into the future. On Wednesday, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Louis Riddick, Seth Walder and Field Yates attempted to do just that, ranking all 32 teams on a scale of 0-100 regarding the team’s quarterback situation, remaining (non-QB) roster, drafting ability, front office and coaching.
After an offseason full of change at the quarterback position, in the front office at the GM spot, and throughout the roster along the offensive line, defensive line, secondary and more, it’s no surprise that the three-year projection for the Steelers is a bit murky. According to ESPN’s panel, the Steelers ranked No. 14 overall projecting three years ahead, grading out at an 80.8 overall.
The overall roster (18th), quarterback situation (19th), drafting ability (15th) and front office (17th) all ranked 15th or worst. However, the Steelers’ coaching situation, led by Mike Tomlin, landed at No. 3 overall in the category, giving the Steelers a significant boost overall.
“When you have Mike Tomlin as your head coach, you are always going to receive the benefit of the doubt. The Steelers steer one of the steadiest ships, and Tomlin’s leadership is among the most critical aspects of the operation,” ESPN’s Field Yates writes regarding the Steelers’ 14th overall ranking. “Two notable retirements took place this offseason for Pittsburgh that will impact how this team fares going forward: long-time standout GM Kevin Colbert and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Be it Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett, the transition at quarterback will decide just how far this team can go in the next three seasons.”
Yates is spot-on in the fact that as long as Tomlin is in charge of the Steelers on the field, the Steelers will get the benefit of the doubt and will always remain in contention. That will certainly be put to the test again in 2022 after losing the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Stephon Tuitt to retirement, while also attempting to rebuild the league’s worst offensive line on the fly.
A lot of the Steelers’ success could rest on the shoulders of Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett, as Yates writes, but the way the Steelers were built — not only for the 2022 season, but beyond — takes a lot of pressure off of the quarterback position overall with a strong run game and a physical, fast defense that will suffocate offenses.
Still, some concerns remain for the ESPN panel, such as the offensive outlook in Year 2 under offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Throughout the 2021 season, it was very clear that a Canada-Roethlisberger pairing just wasn’t working for either party, as Roethlisberger’s skillset late in his career didn’t quite match what Canada wanted out of a quarterback, and Canada wasn’t really able to adjust his scheme to fit his future Hall of Famer’s skillset. Now, in 2022, Canada has no excuses as both Trubisky and Pickett are ideal fits in the second-year coordinator’s scheme.
The Steelers will have to get off to faster starts offensively in 2022, and will need to better utilize their skill players and maximize their strengths overall.
Finally, ESPN believes that the offensive line play could change for the better in 2022 after a downright disastrous season last year after losing four starters in Alejandro Villanueva (free agency), Matt Feiler (free agency), Maurkice Pouncey (retirement) and David DeCastro (injured, cut) in the offseason.
This offseason, the Steelers threw resources at Mason Cole and James Daniels in free agency, and hope that another year of development for Dan Moore Jr. and Kevin Dotson pans out, as well as Chukwuma Okorafor. It’s still not a great line on paper overall, but there’s plenty of intrigue there.
Overall, it’s not a surprise to see the Steelers’ three-year forecast rank behind the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, largely due to the quarterback situations within those franchises. If the Steelers can show signs of progress at the most important position in sports in 2022 though, the three-year outlook should become that much better for the black and gold moving forward.