With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading, through the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense. Both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Braden Mann will unseat Pressley Harvin III as the Steelers’ new punter in 2023.
Explanation: The Steelers claimed the former sixth-round pick off waivers recently, making them presumably the only team in the league who currently employs two punters that were selected in a draft. Entering his fourth season, he was let go by the New York Jets, who drafted him.
Mann, overall, has better and more consistent numbers than Harvin, even though the latter did clearly improve last season. The biggest difference is that keyword, consistency, for which sometimes context is necessary.
For example, Mann uncharacteristically recorded eight touchbacks on punts last season, but touchbacks aren’t inherently bad. Six of them came in just two games, and those marked two of his four highest-graded games of the year, so I’m inclined so assume most of them were contextually beneficial.
He should also fit the manner in which Danny Smith prefers his punters to perform, which favors hang time over distance and directional kicking. That’s not what Mann was asked to do with the Jets, largely, at least in terms of the former, but he can directional kick.
And he can do kickoffs, too, with a higher touchback rate than Chris Boswell.
Believe it or not, but Harvin’s net punting average was just ever so slightly better than Mann’s by a tenth of a yard, 40.1 to 40.0. Mann’s gross punting averages have been better, but, again, that goes back to how punters are asked to punt.
On the other hand, his higher rate of return also relates to his being asked to favor distance over hang time, even though he has better (most notably more consistent) hang time capability than Harvin, who did improve significantly in that area.
That’s the other thing to remember: Harvin is getting better. In Mann’s first season, he averaged just 37.2 yards net per punt, which was worse than what Harvin put up in 2021, when fans wanted him cut. It’s a reminder that if you don’t give players the opportunity to develop, you’ll never know what you’re missing out on.
There’s also the fact that Mann is due to make a couple million this year as a result of the Proven Performance Escalator. That remains intact even though he was waived because the Steelers claimed him. The same thing happened with Miles Boykin last year. So any tiebreaker heavily favors the cheaper, more familiar option.