With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we have turned our attention to the offseason. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.
Player: P Pressley Harvin III
Stock Value: Down
Reasoning: The Steelers claimed a starting punter off waivers recently, adding 2020 sixth-round pick Branden Mann to their offseason roster. He figures to challenge third-year Pressley Harvin III for the starting job.
I don’t know how seriously the Steelers were going to scour the land for punters this offseason, but when the New York Jets added Thomas Morstead and decided to waive their own punter, they wasted no time in adding competition.
A 2020 sixth-round pick, Braden Mann is a three-year starter at punter who has had a pretty solid career overall, improving after his rookie season. He averaged nearly 47 gross yards per punt a year ago with the net yards nearing 41, including 27 punts inside the 20-yard line.
There are things not to like, such as the relatively high rate of return on his punts, but it’s not a function of his hangtime, so that could well speak instead to the Jets’ style of coaching their punting unit. He could lower that rate in Pittsburgh.
By no means is it a lock that Mann is or will be the better punter over Harvin, who did make legitimate improvement a year ago after a rough rookie season. His hang time stabilized, for example, and he improved his directional punting. His net average in 2022 was actually slightly better than Mann’s.
But the fact of the matter is that he now has a very legitimate, quality competitor that he is going to have to go up against in order to retain his job. He didn’t have that last year, though as a rookie he did compete against Jordan Berry, who was arguably the better punter in training camp and the preseason. Berry did not punt in 2022. He was briefly on the Steelers’ practice squad though.
Both Harvin and Mann should still have some upside left in them. It’s not abnormal for a punter two or three years into their career to continue to get better, particularly in terms of becoming more consistent.
One thing that will weigh against Mann is the fact that he is scheduled to earn more in 2023 in the final year of his rookie contract due to the Proven Performance Escalator. If I’m reading the CBA correctly, given that his Steelers contract does not reflect any other salary but a base salary, that should raise his compensation to that of a right of first refusal tender, or $2,627,000.
That’s a lot to pay for a punter you don’t know.