The confetti probably hasn’t even been swept off the field in Glendale, Arizona, the Kansas City Chiefs again Super Bowl champs, but ESPN is hitting the ground running Sunday night with a far-too-early 2023 power rankings. Similar to Sports Illustrated yesterday, the Steelers come in at a solid spot, this time ranking 14th overall.
Each team had a three-word blurb for what the offseason focus should be. For Pittsburgh, they are to “build around Pickett.”
This will be Pickett’s team in 2023. Unlike 2022, there won’t be even any rumblings of a quarterback competition and Pickett won’t be looking over his shoulder after every mistake the way Mitch Trubisky did. Though Pickett took his lumps last season, he ended the year stronger for it and threw only one interception after the bye week. Granted, the offense asked far less of Pickett and controlled the game on the ground but Pickett should make a big leap from Year One to Year Two, no longer the wide-eyed rookie trying to adjust. It’s an idea that applies to several along the Steelers’ offense. WR George Pickens and RB Jaylen Warren are writing similar stories after successful rookie seasons while the offensive line gelled and made strides by season’s end.
With very few pending free agents on that side of the ball, Pittsburgh can focus on adding instead of replacing. The offensive line could still receive consideration especially if a top talent falls into the team’s lap at #17. Arguably, there remains a need in the slot too. The Steelers got very little production from there last season and the combination of Steven Sims and Gunner Olszewski had more rushes than they had receptions. 2022 4th-round pick Calvin Austin III should be healthy after missing all of his rookie year with a foot injury but it’s hard to bank on him alone providing what the Steelers need.
Conceptually, the offense also needs to open up and allow Pickett to run the offense in the way he was billed coming out of Pitt. A smart, Day 1-ready quarterback who can lead the show. Adding hot routes and more checks sure would be a good place to start.
In another blurb associated with the rankings, Brooke Pryor says Pickens needs to get the ball more often.
“At the top of the list, the Steelers have to figure out how to get wide receiver George Pickens more involved”
Pickens was feast or famine last season and occasionally showed his frustration over it. But as his game evolves, his route tree improves (something evident throughout last year), and the offense becomes slightly less conservative, his production should even out.
From a power ranking standpoint, 14th seems about right for the Steelers. Perhaps one or two slots too high, this still was the 26th-ranked offense last season, but Pittsburgh will be in the mix like they always are. Of course, the Chiefs grabbed the top spot in these rankings after beating the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35 in Super Bowl 57 last night while the Houston Texans are the caboose of the list, finishing 32nd.