The Pittsburgh Steelers’ young core (players 25 or under) came in at No. 17 in the league, per ESPN and Football Outsiders.
Football Outsiders listed the Steelers with two blue-chip prospects in rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett and second-year running back Najee Harris. Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth, Dan Moore Jr., Kendrick Green and James Daniels were also mentioned as young players who are expected to help the Steelers in some capacity this year.
While I know they had to pick an age to use, simply looking at under-25 players doesn’t really show a whole lot of anything. James Daniels fits this exercise now, but if you did it the day before Week 2, he would be excluded because he turns 25 on September 13.
We know that the Steelers are pretty young this year, especially on offense. Pickett, who was listed as a blue-chip prospect, is rather unlikely to see a significant amount of playing time this year. If ESPN releases this article at the same time next year, Pickett won’t be eligible because he’ll have turned 25 on June 6. Pittsburgh also had seven players “graduate” from last season because they either left the team or turned 25.
Despite the middle-of-the-pack ranking, the Steelers have a strong cadre of young talent, but some of them just might be too old to qualify for the list. Of the players mentioned who weren’t blue-chip prospects, both Chase Claypool and Pat Freiermuth should build off their 2021 seasons and put up better numbers this year, while Dan Moore Jr. is looking to prove he can stick at tackle long-term. James Daniels might be the best offensive lineman on the roster, while Kendrick Green needs to show more this year if he wins the starting guard spot from Kevin Dotson.
Because of all the graduating players, the Steelers’ ranking dropped from No. 6 last year down to No. 17 this year. That ranking is probably going to fall even further next year unless guys like Freiermuth advance to the blue-chip tier, as both Harris and Pickett will age out. Outside of a player moving up and being considered more valuable in the eyes of ESPN, Pittsburgh’s only blue-chip prospect would be whoever they select in the first round next year.
Despite how arbitrary this exercise is, it does give you a good general idea of which teams are drafting well. If guys in their second or third year are showing up on the list as blue-chip prospects, it’s indicative that a team was able to hit on a draft pick. The age cut-off prevents teams who draft older prospects from getting a higher ranking if they age out quicker, but it’s a good baseline to look and see who is hitting on a lot of picks.
Outside of that, I wouldn’t put much value in these rankings. Pittsburgh has some solid young talent, and the nature of how these rankings are done just doesn’t tell you a whole lot. Regardless, the Steelers will need to develop the young talent they currently have and make sure they can become or stay as starters for a long time. Having consistency at key positions is one of the traits of a winning team, and something Pittsburgh traditionally does. As they enter a new era, let’s see if that remains the case.